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Google+ Enters Open Beta: 9 Enhancements

Google has added useful tweaks to Google+, including improvements to Hangouts, Hangouts APIs, and search.

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Google launched its Google+ social network on June 28 as a "field test" and is now finally ready to open the service to the general public as a "beta" release.

Google senior VP of engineering Vic Gundotra in a blog post said that while Google is "nowhere near done" with Google+, the company has listened and learned.

Google+ users are not entirely satisfied with Google's listening and learning: Several of those posting to the company's mobile blog urged Google to rescind its controversial name policy. A number of people also complained that Google Apps customers are still unable to use Google+. But overall, Google+ users appear to be pleased with the latest improvements.

[Find out more about the Google+ name policy. See 5 Reasons Google+'s Name Policy Fails.]

Google has added support for its multiperson video chat service, Hangouts, to Android 2.3+ phones via a new mobile app in the Android Market. The company promises to update its iOS Google+ app soon.

Google has also upgraded its Hangouts service to allow more viewers than before. The company calls the enhancement "Hangouts On Air." While Hangouts still limit video chat participants to 10, others can view the video via the host's Posts stream.

This broadcasting feature will initially be available to a favored few, starting with celebrity on Wednesday evening. But eventually the less celebrated will be allowed to broadcast to a mass audience.

Hangouts are also getting a handful of enhancements like screen sharing, a sketchpad, Google Docs viewing, and the ability to name Hangouts. In addition, Google is offering Hangouts APIs to allow developers to create applications that interact with Hangouts. Last week, the company introduced a general set of Google+ APIs.

Perhaps the most significant new feature is search. Previously you could search Google+ using the Google search box, but you had to append the command "" to your keyword(s). Now you can enter search keywords through the input box at the top of Google+ pages. That input box used to be restricted to finding other Google+ profiles. Better still, search URLs can be shared.

Google has integrated its Sparks feature, which allows searches to be saved and used to identify relevant new content, into its Google+ search results. Sparks now represent one of four categories by which Google+ searches can be filtered. The others are: Everything, People, and Google+ posts. New saved searches--Sparks by any other name--can be created using the "save this search" button.

Notably absent from Google's latest posts about Google+ is any mention of the social network's user base or growth rate. Just days after Google+ launched, Google temporarily closed the service to new members, citing "insane demand." Some three weeks after launch, Google+ reached 20 million members. But lately, reports suggest flagging interest in the service. That's to be expected as early adopters turn their short attention spans elsewhere. Perhaps opening the doors to Google+ will attract a surge of new users.

On a related note, Google product manager Christian Oestlein, said in a Google+ post that starting next month, people will be able to use Google's +1 button to endorse ads.

"[W]ith a single click you and your friends can make the ads you see on the Web more useful for each other by adding your own recommendations," he wrote.

For some people, it might take three clicks: The first to select AdBlock Plus in the Chrome URL bar, the second to disable the add-on, and then the third to affirm the ad. But doing so would require prior awareness of the blocked ad.

Attend Enterprise 2.0 Santa Clara, Nov. 14-17, 2011, and learn how to drive business value with collaboration, with an emphasis on how real customers are using social software to enable more productive workforces and to be more responsive and engaged with customers and business partners. Register today and save 30% off conference passes, or get a free expo pass with priority code CPHCES02. Find out more and register.

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