Google+ (or Google Plus) is a social networking and identity service that is owned and operated by Google Inc. Google has described Google+ as a "social layer" that enhances many of its online properties, and that it is not simply a social networking website, but also an authorship tool that associates web-content directly with its owner/author. It is the fifth-largest social networking site. 540 million monthly active users are part of the Identity service site, by interacting socially with Google+'s enhanced properties, like Gmail, +1 button, and YouTube comments. In October 2013, Google counted 540 million active users who used at least one Google+ service, of which 300 million users are active in "the stream".
In a 2013 survey, 30% of surveyed smartphone users used the Google Plus app at least once a month.
Google launched the Google+ service as an invitation-only "field test" on June 28, 2011, but soon suspended early invites due to an "insane demand" for new accounts. On August 6, each Google+ member had 150 invitations to give out until September 20, 2011, when Google+ opened to everyone 18 years of age or older without the need for an invitation. It was opened for a younger age group (13 years or older in US and most countries, 14 or older in South Korea and Spain, 16 or older in the Netherlands) on January 26, 2012. Google+ is available as a website and on mobile devices.
Before the launch, Google referred to Google+ as Google Circles, a name alluding to its emphasis on organising friendship information. Google+ is considered the company's fourth foray into social networking, following Google Buzz (launched 2010, retired in 2011), Google Friend Connect (launched 2008, retired by March 1, 2012) and Orkut (launched in 2004, as of 2013[update] operated entirely by subsidiary Google Brazil - retired in September 2014).
During its private beta, Google+ grew to 10 million users after its first two weeks. In a month, it reached 25 million. In October 2011, the service reached 40 million users, according to Larry Page. Based on ComScore, the largest market was the United States followed by India. After nearly three months of operation, it reached 50 million users, whereas other social networking sites such as MySpace took 1,046 days to reach that level; Twitter 1,096 days; Facebook 1,325 days; and LinkedIn 2,354 days . By the end of the year Google+ had 90 million users. According to Experian Hitwise, an Internet metrics firm, the number of U.S. visits to Google+ surpassed 49 million during the one-month period ending December 11, 2011, a 55% increase from the one-month period ending November 11, 2011.
According to independent analysis of its growth in December 2011, the site was adding an estimated number of 625,000 new users a day, which may total 400 million members by the end of 2012. Reported in February 28, 2012, while Facebook users average 7.5 hours on the site per month, Google+ users are spending roughly 3.3 minutes monthly on Google+. As of May 2013 Google+ users are spending roughly 7 minutes on the social site. These numbers do not include traffic via apps.
In just under a day in July 2011, the Google+ iPhone app became the most popular free application in the Apple App Store.
Departure of Vic Gundotra
The departure in April 2014 of Vic Gundotra spawned press speculation that Google would retire Google+, a point refuted by senior Google personnel, including Social & Chrome Community Manager Moritz Tolxdorff and Google+ Chief Architect Yonatan Zunger. In a post in his blog on the company’s social network, Larry Page thanked Vic Gundotra for his hard work over almost eight years at Google and pledged to continue development of Google+.
There are currently 540 million monthly active users across Google Properties and 300 Million active in the Google + Stream. Google+ user base is roughly 60% male and 25% female as of November 2013. The remainder are "Other" or unknown. Early adopters of Google+ in mid-2011 were mostly male (71.24%), and the dominant age bracket (35%) was between 25 and 34. An August 2011 survey estimated that 13% of U.S. adults have joined Google+; it was projected to have 22% of U.S. adults in a year.
On January 26, 2012, teenagers were finally able to create a Google+ account. The age limit had previously been 18, but in response to widespread and unprecedented demand on the part of American teenagers to be permitted to create a Google+ account, Google's Vice President for Product Management Bradley Horowitz eventually relented and announced on Google+ that users as young as 13 would be allowed to join the popular social networking medium.
Social Media Statistics
Facebook now has over 1.15 billion users
Twitter now has over 550 million registered users and 215 million monthly active users
Google+ now has over 1 billion enabled accounts and 359 million active monthly users
YouTube has over one billion monthly active users
Starting in November 2011, Google+ profiles are used as the background account for many Google services including YouTube, Gmail, Google Maps, Android, Google Play, Google Music, Google Voice, Google Wallet, Google Local and more. As of January 2012, Google Search is customized with a feature called Search Plus Your World, which inserts content shared on Google+ profiles and brand pages under Web Search results, if one is logged into their Google+ account while using it. The feature, which is opt-in, was received with controversy over the emphasis of Google+ profiles over other social networking services. The feature builds upon the earlier "Social Search" feature which indexes content shared or published by authors; "Social Search", however, relied partly upon returns from non-Google services, such as Twitter and Flickr. Google and Twitter had a contract that expired in July 2011 which is the reason Tweets are no longer shown.
A Google+ User profile is a public visible account of a user that is attached to many Google properties. It includes basic social networking elements like a profile photo, about section, background photo, previous work and school history, interests, places lived and an area to post status updates. It also includes several identity service sections, such as a contributor and other profiles area that let one link their "properties across the web". These section optionally link to other social media accounts one has, any blogs one owns or have written or sites one is a contributor to. This area is used for Google Authorship. Customized or Vanity URLs were made available to the public starting on October 29.2013 to any account that was 30+ days old, has a profile photo and at least 10 followers. Google removed author photo from search results in June 2014 and in August 2014 Google has stopped showing authorship in search results both photo and author name.
Circles is a core feature of the Google+ Social Platform. It enable users to organize people into groups or lists for sharing across various Google products and services. Organization of circles is done through a drag-and-drop interface. Once a circle is created, a Google+ user can share specific private content to only that circle. For example, work themed content can be shared with only work colleagues, and one's friends and family could see more personal content and photos. The option to share Public or with Everyone is always available. Since September 26, 2011 users can share Circles; it's a one-time share, so if the creator of the Circle updates the members, people's shared copies won't be updated.
Another function of Circles is to control the content of one's Stream. A user may click on a Circle on the left side of the page and the Stream portion of the page (the center) will contain only posts shared by users in that Circle. For the unsegmented Stream (includes content from all of a user's Circles), each Circle has a "slider" configuration item with four positions: nothing, some things, most things, and everything. The nothing position requires the user to select (click on) the Circle name explicitly to see content from users in that Circle. The everything setting as its name implies filters nothing out from people in that Circle. The remaining two positions control the quantity of posts which appear in one's main Stream, but the algorithm controlling what shows has not been disclosed.
In the "Stream", which occupies the middle of three columns on the page, users see updates from those in their Circles. There is an input box which allows users to enter a post. Along with the text entry field there are icons to upload and share photos and videos. The Stream can be filtered to show only posts from specific Circles.
U.S. President Barack Obama interacts with YouTube and Google+ Hangout users in his first completely virtual interview, aired live on January 30, 2012.
Hangouts and Hangouts On Air
Hangouts are free video conferencing calls with up to 10 people, done through the Google+ website or mobile app. Many apps can be used inside the hangout, allowing users to share documents, a scratchpad or their screens with other users. As well as many built-in apps such as YouTube, Google Docs, and the new Capture. 3rd Party apps built using the Hangout API are also available
Mobile Hangouts supports Android 2.3+ devices with front-facing cameras which have been available since September 20, 2011. As of July 10, 2012 Google+ users on iOS are able to use Hangouts on iPhone and iPad.
Hangouts On-Air gives users the ability to create instant webcasts over Google+. The broadcasts can also be recorded for later retrieval. This feature, announced on September 20, 2011, is limited to some videocast personalities, but the announcement indicates that it will be opened up. The first publicly broadcast Hangout was with The Black Eyed Peas’ will.i.am on the night of September 21, 2011. The feature became available at a large scale on May 7, 2012. The feature is not available to users under age 18 or from China, Thailand, and Vietnam.
Google+ Pages was launched on November 7, 2011 to all users, which allows businesses to connect with fans. It allows entities which are not individuals (such as organizations, companies, and publications) to set up profiles, or "pages", for the posting and syndication of posts. It is similar to Facebook Pages.
Google+ Badges was quietly rolled out to select enterprises beginning November 9, 2011 and officially released to the public on November 16. Badges are sidebar widgets which embed "Add to Circles" buttons and drop-down lists into off-site websites and blogs, similar to Facebook's Like Box widgets. This was officially treated by Google as a replacement for the older Google Friend Connect and its widgets, and GFC was announced by Senior Vice President of Operations Urs Hölzle on November 23, 2011, as scheduled to be retired by March 12, 2012 on all non-Blogger sites in favor of Google+ Page Badges.
Google+ Views was introduced on April 1, 2014. It features a "view counter", which is displayed on every user’s profile page. The view counter shows the number of times the user's content has been seen by others, including photos, posts, and profile page.
Google+ Communities: Released December 6, 2012, Google+ Communities allow users to create ongoing conversations about particular topics. Google+ Communities can also be created and managed under Google+ Page accounts.
Currently (April 2014) between Communities and Hangouts on the main mobile menu, Locations is mostly the service that was Latitude. It allows the account holder to share their location with a person, circle or circles. The location can be as accurate as the GPS on the mobile device or can be set to only show city. That distinction on the map is shown by the shape of the avatar or profile photo. Further, if the device is between locations or, in the US, on a state line, the location will be given as the state or as "United States". If the location isn't updated by a mobile device or Web browser, the profile shows the static location named in the profile after 24 hours. (Its life earlier in 2014 was a week.)
Google+ Events: Released at Google I/O on June 27, 2012, Google+ Events allows users to add events, invite people, and then share photos and media in real-time from the event. The program is integrated with Google Calendar, and is posed as a direct competitor to similar features offered by Facebook.
"What's hot" Stream, introduced on October 27, 2011, is a stream showing what Google+ users have commented, shared and interacted with the most. It is similar to "Trending Topics" On Twitter.
On June 11, 2014, Google combined Google Places and Google+ Local Business Pages with the Google My Business product. The product uses the interface of Google+ but has many more features including insights and analytics. On May 30, 2012, Google Places was replaced by Google+ Local, which now integrates directly with the Google+ service to allow users to post photos and reviews of locations directly to its page on the service. Additionally, Google+ Local and Maps also now feature detailed reviews and ratings from Zagat, who was acquired by Google in September 2011.
At the initial launch, Google Apps accounts could not be used on Google+ due to lack of support for Google Profiles. On October 27, Google announced that Google+ now supports Google Apps users (if the user's domain administrator has enabled the service).
Original (left) and with Auto Enhance applied (right)
Google+ Creative Kit is an online photo editor integrated to Google+ on October 27, 2011, which is essentially Picnik, integrated earlier to Picasa Web Albums.
Auto Awesome: Released at Google I/O in 2013, the feature applies special effects, manually (with Android) or automatically, often using multiple sequential shots. Effects include composite motion in a single image, short animation, photobooth style, and high-dynamic range rendering (HDR).
Auto Enhance: With Auto Enhance, Google+ makes subtle adjustments to hypothetically improve photos.
Google+ Auto-Backup: A desktop utility that imports a large collection of photos and videos.
"Instant Upload" is specific to mobile devices; it stores photos or videos in a private album for sharing later.
A "Data Liberation" option provides the ability to download one's content from Google+.
"Search in Google+" allows users to search for content within Google+. Users type what they're looking for into the Google+ search box, and Google will return relevant people and posts, as well as popular content from around the web.
Hashtags, which involve the prepending of a number sign to the beginning of a word or CamelCase, are hyperlinked to the most recent or highest-trending search results within Google+ containing the term. This, a feature which gained notoriety as a microblogging practice on Twitter, was implemented as a Google+ feature on October 12, 2011. Autocompletion came on January 17, 2012.
"New Features for Google+ Mobile" Since the launch of Google+, Google has been adding and making changes to many features. On September 30, 2011, the company released a list of changes and additions to Google+ mobile which include:
Broadened SMS support so that users in the US and India can now post to Google+, receive notifications, and respond to group messages via SMS. They have also made it easier to +mention someone from a mobile device. Now, to +mention another user, one simply writes +[their name] inside a post or comment. In order to +1 comments more easily, users are now able to +1 them directly from their iOS devices. They also introduced this feature to the Android app in December 2011.
Ripples, introduced on October 27, 2011, is a visualization tool, showing how resharing activity happens regarding a public post. One can replay the public share's activity, zoom in on certain events, identify top contributors, view statistics about average chain length, the most influential people in the chain, the language of the sharers, etc.
Select public figures have verified names. Google determines whether a particular profile warrants verification. The purpose is to indicate to site visitors whether a particular profile belongs to who one would generally expect the name to be, and not someone who coincidentally has the same name as a public figure. Verified identity profiles have a checkmark logo after their name. Examples of profiles bearing the verified name badge include Linus Torvalds, William Shatner, Leo Laporte, Mark Zuckerberg, Larry Page, and Sergey Brin.
"Messenger" (formerly: Huddle) is a feature available to Android, iPhone, and SMS devices for communicating through instant messaging within Circles. Additionally, users can share photos in Messenger between their Circles. This feature was removed in August 2013 since it is superseded by Hangouts.
"Sparks" is a front-end to Google Search, enabling users to identify topics they might be interested in sharing with others. "Featured interests" sparks are also available, based on topics others globally are finding interesting. Sparks is accessed as a pull-down from search results and helps to keep users informed of the latest updates on the topics of their interest. Sparks was removed sometime in November 2012.
"Games" (social gaming) had 16 games when launched on August 11, 2011, which expanded to 44 a few months later, but as of April 2013 there are 38 since some games were removed by the creators and no new games have been added. Unlike Facebook games, Google+ games are located under a games tab, which gives games less visibility, and have notifications that are separate from the rest of a user's notifications. All games were deleted from Google+ in June 2013.
Google changed the site's logo and favicon, from black to a red one.
SEO (Search Engine Optimization)
According to Business Insider and TastyPlacement, having "Google+ followers boosts the [Google search] ranking the most, while a "+1" still does way more for your search ranking than Facebook or Twitter."
The introduction of Google+ had an impact on the graphic redesign of Google's web search service. As it was explained later, Google+'s new look is actually part of a broader effort to refresh the visual design across Google, to achieve a consistent experience in all products across the Google spectrum.
In particular, there have been changes to Picasa Web Albums, whereby all Picasa users' images will automatically join their Google+ image storage. Google rebranded Picasa as Google Photos. Other changes:
After tagging someone, they receive a notification and can see the photo and the related album.
For new albums, anyone an album is shared with can see who else it is shared with.
Albums someone shared can be tagged and re-shared by others.
Photos up to 2048×2048 pixels and videos up to 15 minutes do not count towards the 15 GB shared storage limit for Google+/GMail/Drive users, creating "virtually unlimited" storage for mobile users.
The new Google Reader interface was made available on October 31, 2011. Beside the sweeping visual changes, former social features ("share" and "like" buttons) have been replaced by a Google +1 button and the "share on Google+" box. It's said that now Reader is on its fourth social model, after using Google Talk contacts, allowing people to manage friends from the Reader interface and then integrating with Google Buzz.
Importing contacts from other social networks
Google+ includes a feature to invite contacts from Yahoo! and Hotmail. At this time, however, there is no official way to import Facebook contacts into Google+; but there are some workarounds to achieve it. Facebook allows users to download their data, but not in a simple format easy to import; network effects make it difficult for a new social network such as Google+ to be successful, and an easy tool to migrate to a rival service would reduce the effect. Google+ allows users to download their data in an open format.
Controversies and criticism
When joining the service, new users are asked for real-name and gender disclosure, which at launch was shared as public information. The gender selector has options for "Male", "Female", and "Other". The mandatory public gender exposure led to criticism for making older Google profiles public. In response, Google made changes to the service that allows users to control the privacy settings of their gender information. Google's justification for requiring gender information is that it uses that information to inform its usage of the terms "he", "she", and "they" in their delivery of information to users of the service. If a user decides to make the gender portion of the profile private, the language used to convey information becomes gender-neutral, using the singular they in place of gender-specific pronouns.
Google+ previously required some[which?] users to identify themselves using their real names and accounts may be suspended when this requirement is not met. Google VP Bradley Horowitz stated that a violation of the terms of service will only affect the service whose terms were violated[clarify] and not any of the other services that Google provides. However, there were early reports of account holders being temporarily locked out of all of Google services.
On October 19, 2011, at the Web 2.0 Summit, Google executive Vic Gundotra revealed that Google+ would begin supporting pseudonyms and other types of identity "within a few months". As of January 23, 2012 Google+ allows the use of established pseudonyms. In July 2014, Google Plus policy was changed to allow any name to be used.
Commenting on YouTube
On November 6, 2013, YouTube began requiring that commenting on its videos be done via a Google+ account. YouTube said that their new commenting system featured improved tools for moderation, and comments would no longer be shown chronologically, but would be featured according to "relevance" and popularity, determined by the commenters' community engagement, reputation, and up-votes for a particular comment. A small portion of channels that used email addresses of older channels without Google account integration, remained without the new comment system, though some older features are now broken.
The decision to require a Google+ account to comment on YouTube videos led some users to criticize the change. Some YouTube commenters and content creators complained that the Google+ requirement that users use their real name created online privacy and security concerns. Others said the change made the comment system overly complex, and required users to set up an account on a social media platform for which they had no other use. An online petition to revert the change garnered over 100,000 signatures in less than a week and another 100,000 a week later. YouTube co-founder Jawed Karim voiced his disapproval of the change in one of few recent comments and added "I can't comment here anymore, since I don't want a google+ account." to the description of the first ever video on the site. Commenters on YouTube pasted text art tanks and stick figures called "Bob" to protest the new commenting system and Google+. Supporters of the changes said it was a positive step at cleaning up the "virtual cesspool" of homophobic, racist, sexist and offensive comments found on YouTube.
^McCullagh, Declan (July 15, 2011). "Google Wields Data Openness Against Facebook". Privacy Inc (blog of CNET). Retrieved October 12, 2011. "Facebook does allow users to download much of their data, but not instantly and not in a format that can be easily imported to rival services. It's 'not in an open portable format at all,' says Fitzpatrick, the Google manager."