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The Online Mom provides internet technology advice and information to help parents protect their kids, encourage responsible behavior and safely harness the power of technology in the new digital world. Social networking, photo sharing, video games, IM & texting, internet security, cyberbullying, educational resources, the latest on tech hardware, gadgets and software for kids 3-8, tweens and teens, and more.

Google+ now open to everyone

By TheTechDad

If you have been standing on the sidelines, impatiently watching as others enjoyed checking out Google+, then your long wait is over. After limiting initial access, Google this morning threw open the doors of its fledgling social network to everyone and moved from what they termed a “field trial” of the product to the beta version.

Judging by the number of people who signed up for Google+, Google’s chosen method of roll-out didn’t really hurt the product and might even have helped garner a little extra publicity by appealing to the vanity of various tech insiders. But after three months it’s hard to really assess what Google has in Google+. Now that the newness has worn off, is there a long-term future for Google+ in a social networking world dominated by the big 3 of Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn?

Along with the open sign-up policy, Google also announced a host of new features for Google+. Many of them relate to Hangouts, Google+’s much-acclaimed video-conferencing tool. Until now, Hangouts has only been available on a PC, even though Google+ launched with a full mobile interface. Google is now making Hangouts available to the latest Android devices and will be bringing it to Apple iOS devices very soon.

In perhaps the most attention-grabbing update, Google is also adding a broadcast feature to Hangouts called Hangouts On Air. This allows members to publicly broadcast their video chats. Although active participants will still be limited to 10, anyone can tune into the broadcast, making it a perfect entertainment and education vehicle, as well as a live conferencing platform. To begin with, the new feature will only be available to a select few. It kicks-off tomorrow with a Hangout On Air feature from the Black Eyed Peas’ will.i.am.

Google has also added search to Google+, a feature that was surprisingly absent from the field trial version. Users can type queries into a search box and get results from Google+ posts, as well as content from around the Web.

The changes to Google+ coincide with a lively debate over the relevance of Google’s young social network, and whether it can establish a toehold alongside its bigger and more-established rivals. Although few would go as far as Forbes.com contributor Paul Tassi in declaring that Google+ is dead, there are definite signs of fatigue.

Although accurate numbers aren’t available, there appears to have been a huge number of “one-and-done” Google+ users in the initial wave of sign-ups – people who visited the site out of curiosity, set up a partial profile…and then never came back. There is also widespread talk of “social networking overload” – people who can barely keep up with their Facebook and Twitter accounts, let alone find time for one more set of daily updates.

But there are also many Google+ defenders. Various users have described Google+ as “Facebook without the trivia” or “Twitter with depth.” In fact, it may be Google+’s ability to connect disparate groups of people in far more meaningful ways than either Facebook or Twitter that will ultimately define its role in our lives going forward.

In the meantime, Google+ is fully open for business. If nothing else, it’s a wonderful way to video chat!

Have you tried Google+? Here to stay or a short-lived fad? Share your thoughts with The Online Mom!

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