About three months after Google launched a field trial of its Google+ social network, the service is now open to everyone without an invite.
“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,” Vic Gundotra, senior vice president of engineering at Google, wrote in a blog post.
To access the service, visit google.com/+.
Before opening up the service to the masses, Google made a handful of additional updates, including improvements to Hangouts and Search.
Until now, the group video chat feature known as Hangouts was only available on the desktop. But “we think Hangouts should keep pace with how you socialize in the real-world,” Gundotra wrote, so Hangouts is now available on mobile phones.
At this point, it’s only supported on Android 2.3 devices with front-facing cameras, but iOS support is “coming soon,” he said. An updated app is being added to the Android Market today.
If you have something to say and want to reach new people on Hangouts, meanwhile, the “On Air,” or public broadcast, feature might be for you. “Once you’re ‘On Air,’ up to nine others can join your hangout (as usual), and anyone can watch your live broadcast,” Gundotra said.
Initially, On Air will be available to a limited number of users, but any Google+ member can watch a broadcast. The first On Air hangout will actually be with will.i.am on September 21. More details will be posted on the musician’s and Gundotra’s Google+ pages.
To make Hangouts more interesting, meanwhile, Google has added a number of features, including screen sharing, sketchpad, Google Docs, and named Hangouts.
“The extras are still under construction, but we wanted to preview these features and get your feedback sooner versus later,” Gundotra wrote. “So start a hangout, click ‘Try Hangouts with extras’ in the green room, and let us know what you think.”
In conjunction with the release of the Google+ API, meanwhile, Google will also release a basic set of Hangouts APIs. More details are on the Google+ platform blog.
On the Search front, Google has added that functionality to its social network. “Just type what you’re looking for into the Google+ search box, and we’ll return relevant people and posts, as well as popular content from around the web,” Gundotra wrote.
“If you’re into photography, for example, then you’ll see other enthusiasts and lots of great pictures,” he continued. “If you care more about cooking, then you’ll see other chefs and food from around the globe.”
Google+ made its debut in late June with a limited number of users, and a Google+ invite quickly became the hottest ticket in town. The hysteria died down a bit after Google started allowing users tosend out invites, but there was a lot of talk about whether Google had finally landed on a social networking product that could compete with Facebook.
With 25 million users at last count to Facebook’s 750 million, Google+ clearly has a long way to go, but opening up the service to everyone could help boost those numbers. At least one blogger, however,likened Google+ to a ghost town today.
Still, it’s clear that Facebook and Google+ are taking cues from one another. Google+ has some veryFacebook-esque privacy features and cribs the Facebook news feed structure. But Facebook recently unveiled some friends features that look a lot like Google+ Circles.
For more, see PCMag’s full review of Google+ and the slideshow below, as well as our reviews of the Google+ app for iPhone and Android, and hands on with the Google+ App for iPad.