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from the L.A. Times

Google+ open to the public with new search, 'Hangouts' video chat features

Google+ Hangouts on mobile phone

Google+ is now open to the masses -- anyone can sign up.

However, Google+ still isn't quite yet a fully finished product, and while now open to the public, it's still technically in a beta stage with nine new features being added this week and more planned for the future.

"For the past 12 weeks we've been in field trial, and during that time we've listened and learned a great deal," said Vic Gundotra, the Google senior vice president in charge of Google+, in a blog post.

"We're nowhere near done, but with the improvements we've made so far we're ready to move from field trial to beta, and introduce our 100th feature: open signups. This way anyone can visit google.com/+, join the project and connect with the people they care about."

And while many of the people you care about might not be Google+ users, Google is hoping they'll join now that the doors are open.

Google launched its Facebook-challenger 90 days ago, as an invite-only "field trial." Since then, as Gundotra noted, 100 different tweaks, changes and features have been added to Google+ -- the last nine of those being announced on Tuesday morning.

Of the new features being added, the most useful one overall might be the addition of improved search. It seems odd that worthwhile search wasn't already a bigger part of Google+, considering that Google builds the world's most widely used search engine and search is where the tech giant got its start.

But search is now a major feature, allowing users to not only search for other users (as was offered before), but also for user posts and photos as well.

"With more than 1 billion items shared and received every day, we're excited to see how search will connect people through their posts on Google+," Gundotra said.

Hangouts, the Google+ multi-person video chat component, has some new abilities as well. The biggest new feature for Hangouts will likely be the addition of starting or taking part in a Hangout video chat session using a smartphone or tablet -- provided the gadget has a front-facing camera.

For now, Hangouts' new mobile feature is only available on Android devices, but the company says an update for this will hit the Google+ iOS app soon as well.

Google+ Hangouts are also getting a bit more Ustream-like. A new feature called "On Air" will allow Google+ users to broadcast their hangouts to the public for anyone to watch. In keeping with the Hangout theme, as many as nine other Google+ users can take part in the Hangout On Air as well.

While anyone can watch, the ability to start a Hangout On Air will roll out a bit more slowly than some other features, Gundotra said.

"We're starting with a limited number of broadcasters, but any member of the Google+ community can tune in," he said. "In fact: we'll be hosting our very first On Air hangout with will.i.am on Wednesday night, Sept. 21. For more information visit will.i.am’s or my profile on Google+."

Looks like Google is working on getting more celebrities into Google+ as well.

Hangouts also will be opened up to screen sharing "for when you want to show off your vacation photos, your high score, your lesson plan or whatever else is on your screen," a new feature called sketchpad "for when you want to draw, doodle, or just scribble together," Google Docs "for when you want to write, plan or present something with others" and Named Hangouts, "for when you want to join or create a public hangout about a certain topic," Gundotra said.

Google also is releasing a set of developer tools (APIs) for Hangouts, to allow programmers to use the video chat function in new products, apps and games, he said. The release of Hangouts APIs follows the launch of a general Google+ API last week.

All of the new features should hit users over the next week Gundotra said.

RELATED:

Google+ social network gets games in bid to rival Facebook

Larry Page MIA on Google+, Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg popular

Facebook's Google+ and Twitter-like 'Subscribe' feature lets non-friends connect

-- Nathan Olivarez-Giles

twitter.com/nateog

Image: Three screen shots of Google+ Hangouts on an Android phone. Credit: Google Inc.

 
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