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updated 9/20/2011 4:49:26 PM ET 2011-09-20T20:49:26

After three months of Google+ by invitation only, the Internet’s newest social networking site has finally opened to the public. Google+ is officially out of its beta phase, boasting an active user base of more than 20 million.

Google+ is based on circles of people who share something in common, such as close friends, family and business acquaintances. Users can easily post updates to only the people they want to share with, avoiding the awkward gaffes made famous on Facebook.

Google today also released another handful of features designed to “bring the nuance and richness of real-life sharing” that much closer, Vic Gundotra, Google’s senior vice president of engineering, wrote on the company’s blog. The company set up a separate site where users can keep of track of the changes made to the continuously evolving site that includes video chats, group messaging and Twitter-like following of persons of interest.

Hangouts go public and mobile

Hangouts are the Google+ version of live video chats that are able to include multiple people. Because of this flexibility, users can chat face-to-face and participate in cooking classes, game shows and concerts from afar. That function has been extended with “Hangouts On Air,” Google’s own brand of public broadcasting.

Hangouts have been extended to video-chat capable phones — for now that means Android 2.3+ phones with a front-facing camera. Google said support for iPhones is coming soon. Users can download the app in the Android Market.

The setup is simple: start a normal hangout, and you’ll see the option to broadcast and record your session. Once you’re “On Air,” up to nine others can join your hangout (as usual), and anyone can watch your live broadcast.

Beyond chatting

When conversations run dry, Hangouts now offer more things to do, including sharing your computer screen and whatever is on display, collaborating on Google Docs and doodling via SketchPad. Google said these extras are still under construction, but are available to try: Click “Try Hangouts with extras” in the green room, the pre-hangout screen where you can check your hair on camera before you go live to your friends.

Outside of Hangouts, Google+ now incorporates a massive search feature. All public posts — more than 1 billion to date — are now searchable.

Extras for veteran Google+ users : Google has renamed its group messaging feature “Huddles” to the more universal “Messenger.” You can now upload a photo from your phone to replace your Google+ profile picture.

 

 

© 2012 TechNewsDaily

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