Google (NSDQ: GOOG) decided its Google+ social network was ready to take a big step on Tuesday: it’s now open to the public and no invitation is required. The company also released over a dozen new features designed to make it easier to use the software on mobile devices and for its trademark Hangouts video conferences.
In a blog post announcing the move, Google’s Vic Gundotra said “Google+ is still in its infancy, of course, but we’re more excited than ever to bring the nuance and richness of real-life sharing to software.” It’s been about three months since Google first revealed its bid to finally make a dent in the social-media landscape with Google+, which has been generally well-received as a social network with better organizational tools than Facebook.
Several of the new features released Tuesday relate to Hangouts, which allows up to 10 people connected on Google+ to participate in a video conference. Hangouts can now be open to anyone with a Google+ account, not just people with whom you are connected, and Hangouts can be accentuated with presentation materials and videos. Perhaps most importantly, Hangouts can now be conducted or accessed from Android phones (Google said iOS support was “coming soon”).
Others were focused on the mobile implementation of Google+, such as allowing users to “+1″ things or people (Google’s version of Facebook’s Like button) from their phones and use SMS messages as ways to post to one’s Google+ page. Google is also changing the name of the Huddle group-messaging application to Messenger and adding the ability to share photos through that app.
Google+ is still not available as a collaboration tool for Google Apps customers, however. Dave Girouard, the head of Google’s enterprise software division, tweeted Tuesday that such support was “coming soon.”
While Google+ is the company’s best take yet on social media, it’s going to take quite some time for it to seriously challenge Facebook’s 750-milllion strong userbase. Opening the service to the public will certainly help that goal, but Google will also have to find ways to convince the public that Google+ offers something Facebook does not, especially if Facebook follows through on rumored music and video services later this week at its F8 developer conference.