Google+ opened up to teenagers on Thursday, a move that Google no doubt hopes will help it challenge Facebook as the social network of choice.
"Teens and young adults are the most active Internet users on the planet," said Bradley Horowitz, Google's vice president of products, in a post on his Google+ page. "And surprise, surprise: they're also human beings who enjoy spending time with friends and family. Put these two things together and it's clear that teens will increasingly connect online."
While minors will now be able to use Google+, the experience on the social network won't be exactly the same for them as the 18-and-older crowd. Google has made a few privacy and security changes with teens in mind that Horowitz said will make Google+ a more ideal network to use for sharing and connecting with friends than other services.
"Unfortunately, online sharing is still second-rate for this age group," he said of teenagers. "In life, for instance, teens can share the right things with just the right people (like classmates, parents or close ties). Over time, the nuance and richness of selective sharing even promotes authenticity and accountability. Sadly, today's most popular online tools are rigid and brittle by comparison, so teens end up over-sharing with all of their so-called "friends.' "
The ability to share on Google+ to specific "circles" of friends is a start Horowitz said, but the social network is also giving users "control over who can contact them online. By default, only those in teens' circles can say hello, and blocking someone is always just a click or two away."
Google+'s Hangout video chats will also be tweaked for teens. "If a stranger outside a teen's circles joins the hangout, we temporarily remove the young adult, and give them a chance to rejoin," he said.
Previously, Google+ was only open to users who were 18 years old and up. Now, Horowitz said, anyone who is old enough for a Google account of any sort is old enough for Google+. And in all but Spain (14), South Korea (14) and the Netherlands (16), that age is 13.
-- Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Image: An example of the prompt a teenage Google+ user under age 18 will receive whenever someone they don't have included in a contact "circle" on the social network joins in on a Hangout video chat session. Credit: Google