With more than 100 new features and an 'anyone welcome' policy, Google+ is finally living up to the hype that was floating around upon its release.
But it's still undergoing some growing pains after being the hottest new kid on the block this summer. You might say the social site is weathering through its sophomore months, in search of a way to retain the now 40 million users it has amassed. I must admit that I was one of the people that was excited to be an early adopter with my invite only pass, but the new car smell wore off within three weeks when I noticed that few of my friends were on the site and the tools were limited.
Yet while Google+ has seen its ups and downs, debuting with millions of invites and requests in the early weeks of summer, only be greeted by a small circle of friends and a lot of functional glitches, the site is still the fastest growing social network ever. Why does it seem so sparse? For the most part, people are signing up without adding content.
Twitter saw a similar trend where people would sign up, be active for a few days and then cancel their accounts. It was really the user buzz and media adoption of Twitter that helped the microblogging site become a household brand -- and now Google needs some of that buzz.
But now, it appears that Google+ has really created a great homepage with all the tools a Web-savvy explorer would need. The platform that was rumored to be the "Facebook-killer" is really gearing up to be a one-stop home page with some great social integration, rather than the go-to spot to chat with hundreds of your friends.
Bringing companies online
Monday morning, Google+ finally launched official pages, allowing community clubs, restaurants and companies to create Google+ pages that allow people to interact, follow and search information on groups and companies.
This move opens up the service for businesses and groups to enter the marketplace -- much like Facebook has fan pages that people can interact with and follow. Not only does this opportunity allow for the number of users to skyrocket but it will also provide more sources of content in the way of corporate, media, nonprofit and other interactions.
I can't stress this needed addition enough, since one of the main complaints heard about the social site is that not enough people and content was floating through the circles. If social media directors for all of the online savvy companies jump on board this will create a much more interactive and vibrant experience that could re-introduce the owners of the 40+ million Google+ profiles to log on the site and be more active members.
It was no suprise to me that news organizations were quick to jump onto Google+ once entities could create pages. In a matter of hours, organizations such as TIME, ABC News, Al Jazeera English, CBS News, NPR and Financial Times had created their pages and collected thousands of followers each.
With more news content that gets updated and added to throughout the day, users will quickly see more communication and content through the site.
There are even tools now for reporters and other members of the media to link the content they produce to their profiles, thus creating a deeper level of interaction and communication for readers that want to follow or contact the creator of content they read or watch through the Google+ platform.
A better online toolbox
On Thursday, Google+ added a deeper YouTube integration on the page by locking a YouTube button on the far right side of the personal page. When a user click on the button you are able to type in search terms and a pop-up window for the video and list of suggestions.
What really makes this deeper integration more interesting is the backround music-esque set up because of the popup window. A user can hide the window and continue to control the content on Google+, which makes this a fair option for streaming music as you navigate the Google+ page.
Last month, Google announced that it launched Google+ for colleges and universities, which will allow study groups to share information and let professors create virtual hours.
If colleges and classes start adopting Google+ for online content and communication then it could virally spread the understanding and use of some great new features including the ability to share documents with circles of friends and video chat (Hangout) with multiple people.
Creating times and locations for study groups has always been difficult and the tools in Google+ and the Google+ mobile app could make class connection far more streamlined.
Where this could take us
Over the last few weeks, we have seen upgrades to Gmail and Google Reader that put a deeper focus on Google+ and have gotten many familiar with the different functions capable on the Google platform.
The more Google+ adds and integrates into other features, the more I think that the platform will become the new Google homepage with great social perks and integration. It may not be long before users are strictly doing their searches via Google+ rather than the Google homepage because they will get a richer and more personalized experience (offering web and friend-related results for search terms.)
It has taken summer and fall for it to happen, but I think we are finally seeing what Google creative directors were promising from the get go, and it looks great.