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Appropriately enough, Google VP of engineering Vic Gundotra announced the invitation suspension via Google+. "We've shut down invite mechanism for the night," he wrote on Wednesday. "Insane demand. We need to do this carefully, and in a controlled way."
Whether it's insane demand or rationing calculated to create the appearance of demand, it's hard to say. Certainly there is demand: Dozens of Google+ invitations have been sold--or appear to have been sold--on eBay for prices ranging from $0.99 to $100.
And there's enough usage that the service is showing signs of strain. Some users are reporting technical issues, such as a 12-hour lag in the appearance of Circle data on Google Profile pages.
But Google looks to be following a path trod by Twitter, not to mention Facebook, to popularity: feeding the media. Public statements carried by Google+, such as those published by Gundotra, and the reported appearance of Google co-founder Sergey Brin at a Google+ Hangout, serve to increase the value of Google+ for the press and bloggers, thereby encouraging the media's participation in the service and increasing its visibility.
The generally positive reviews are likely to help Google+ thrive where past projects, less well reviewed, have stalled.
Lauren Weinstein, co-founder of People For Internet Responsibility and founder of Privacy Forum, offered his praise for Google+ in a Google+ post: "A clear and extremely welcome difference between Google+ and Facebook is that G+ treats us as adults able to determine our own relationships and sharing preferences, in contrast to Facebook that treats us like sheep to be fleeced via pressures to over-share."
Another thing going for Google+ is its potential utility to businesses. Facebook's version of sharing has long been associated with silliness and banality--think updates about friends' eating habits. Though there's more to it than that these days--the similarity between the two services is succinctly captured in Randall Munroe's the online comic xkcd--the sense remains that Facebook isn't where serious interaction takes place. Google has wisely opted to organize Google+ around small groups rather than a single, massive list. As such, Google+ Circles and Hangouts look like they'd be suitable for group collaboration in contexts where some degree of privacy is appropriate.
As to when Google+ may again start accepting requests for invitations, Google doesn't have a clear answer. "We launched Google+ in a Field Trial in order to test the product and gather more feedback," a Google spokesperson said in an email. "As part of the Field Trial, we may open/close Google+ to new users, at any time. We're thrilled so many people are interested in trying out a new approach to online sharing!"
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