After 12 weeks of “field testing”, Google has finally decided to move it’s fledgling social network to beta status and open the floodgates to the general public. Now anyone can go to http://google.com/+ to sign up without needing an invite from a current user.
Open signups may be the least interesting news to come out today, as a new rush of features has come in its wake. For desktop, Google has introduced “Hangouts on Air”, new Hangout activites, and Search. The first expands the Hangouts feature to adopt a style similar to UStream or LiveStream, where one person dominates the video conference with a directed broadcast. While this is limited to the normal nine users for regular users, an upcoming Hangout on Air with will.i.am will probably be open to more users. In addition, Hangouts will have more activities for users to take part in collaboratively. Screensharing, Sketchpad, and Google Docs will all bring the service in closer parity to competitors like Skype or even GoToMeeting. Finally, Google has expanded the functionality of its search box within Plus to not only search friends, but also within individual posts for certain topics or keywords.
The rest of the new features that Google has implemented apply to the mobile version of G+, adding features more appropriate to the platform (Hangouts for Android phones with front-facing cameras) and those which the desktop had but phones lacked (profile picture changes, better mentions and +1 support). For a full list of mobile-specific changes, check out the second Google source link below.