Upstart social network Google+ on Thursday announced a few new features and introduced a change that users have been hankering after since the service launched over the summer.
A "What's Hot" feature will help users find and interact with popular content shared within Google+. According to a post on the Official Google Blog, this new tool will give users a glimpse outside their Circles and into the larger world of Google+ posts created by the 40 million-strong (and growing) user base.
A video posted to the Google Blog explains that the new feature will appear within users' vertical timelines, letting them click horizontally through popular content that might not otherwise appear there. You can also view hot Google+ posts in their very own "What's Hot" timeline, similar to Twitter's Top Tweets feed highlighting the microblog's most retweeted posts.
Check out how Google's new feature works in the video (below).
Google+ also announced an analytics tool, "Google+ Ripples," which lets users track how people are engaging with Google+ posts. Another fun tool, called the "Google+ Creative Kit," adds easy editing tools for photos uploaded to the network. (Visit the Google Blog to read more about these new features.)
And that's not all.
One of users' most frequent complaints about the social network was that only personal Gmail accounts could be used to sign up for the service. This policy excluded any user who accessed Gmail via a Google Apps account. But no longer.
As promised, Google+ has finally opened its doors to professionals, students and other Google Apps users. Note, however, that not all features of Google+ will work with Google Apps accounts, though Google promises it will "continue to add features" for Google Apps users.
Starting now you can manually turn on Google+ for your organization. Once Google+ is turned on, your users will just need to sign up at google.com/+ to get started. For customers who use Google Apps for Business or the free version of Google Apps and who have chosen to automatically enable new services, Google+ will automatically become available to all of your users over the next several days.*
A number of universities around the world using Google Apps to power their email networks have already made Google+ available to students and faculty. For a full list of these 20+ institutions, visit the Google Enterprise Blog, and check out what Google+ features are available to higher education accounts.
For those who have already created a Google+ profile with a personal account, Google says there's a "migration tool" coming soon that will let Google+ users connect their existing Circles between their personal and Google Apps accounts.
"We expect this migration option to be ready in a few weeks, so if you’d like, you can go ahead and get started with your Apps account today and merge your connections once the tool is available," writes Google+ product manager Ronald Ho.
Google's social chief Vic Gundotra promised earlier this month at the Web 2.0 Expo that this change was imminent. He also promised several other changes were in the pipes already, some of which users have listed among Google+'s biggest shortcomings. Read more about what's to come from Google+, then take a look at users' biggest problems with Google+ (below).
Early in September, Google+ added a Twitter-like feature that compiled popular users into categories for easy discovery. This so-called Suggested Users List prompted a backlash from users. The Huffington Post's Craig Kanalley worried that the list would "alienate people and lead to an inevitable followers war that can hurt the health of the social network and inflate people's egos," but Google's Bradley Horowitz was quick to promise that the site would soon add more categories to the list. He also said that many kinds of users would be featured, not just the most popular or best known. Others, however, pointed out even more problems. SFGate.com said that the users on the list were "overwhelmingly white," and Blogger Alexander Howard said the list raised "[c]oncerns about transparency, free advertising, influence, diversity and even accuracy." Blogger Robert Scoble went so far as to request that Google+ remove him from the SUL. "It just isn't a well curated list and so I don't want my name associated with it," wrote Scoble.
A group of vocal users has been speaking out against Google+'s "real name policy," which allows the network to suspend an account suspected of using a pseudonym, mononym, nickname, name that include symbols and some other atypical names. According to a Google+ Support page's description of the policy, "it's important to use your common name so that the people you want to connect with can find you." But, as the Sydney Morning Herald points out, this has been a problem for people like YouTube stars who are best known by the pseudonyms they perform under, and for people who have legally changed their names to a mononym. Social media commentator Dana Boyd says that Google's "real name" policy puts certain people in danger, people such as "abuse survivors, activists, LGBT people, women, and young people." Writes Boyd, The people who most heavily rely on pseudonyms in online spaces are those who are most marginalized by systems of power. "Real names" policies aren't empowering; they're an authoritarian assertion of power over vulnerable people. These ideas and issues aren't new (and I've even talked about this before), but what is new is that marginalized people are banding together and speaking out loudly. And thank goodness.
For now, Google+ doesn't allow businesses, organizations or brands to create accounts on the new social network. Google warned non-users that it would enforce a "no-brands-allowed" rule and would delete accounts that did not comply, but the company also promised that it would welcome brands once the site caters to communications between personal accounts and business accounts. While select brands have been allowed to keep their Google+ profiles, many brand pages have been removed. Google Social Head Vic Gundotra told TechCrunch in July that deleting some brand pages while allowing others to stay was "probably a mistake."
For now, Google+ enforces an age limit. Anyone under 18 years old runs the risk of having their account shut down by Google. Why aren't minors allowed inside Google+? "It's not as simple as just asking a parent for consent to let their child have an account," a Google rep explained to Time.com. "There are associated implications for data and privacy involved." According to Time.com, sites that use minors' information must inform online authorities how they are collecting such data, how they plan to use it and more. "That's why Facebook and some other sites simply forbid those under 13 from signing up in the first place," writes Time.com.
Critics of Google+ have raised concerns with the limited demographics represented on the site. comScore reported in July that 63 percent of the site's visitors were males and 37 percent were females. The following month, comScore released more demographic statistics about Google+ users. The latter report found that users were typically young (18-34 year olds) with an average yearly household income of $100,000 or more. "Google+ is definitely off to a fast start in reaching the most desirable income segments, which may make it more attractive to advertisers," the report concluded.
Currently, Google+ features apply only to personal Google accounts created with a Gmail address. This disqualifies Gmail users who have a business email account via Google Apps. If you use both a Gmail and a Google apps account throughout the day, you can only sign in to Google+ from the personal account. Google promises that it is working to integrate Google+ features with Google apps. UPDATE: Google announced on October 27 that it will begin integrating features of Google+ with Google Apps accounts.
The Google+ Help page details some of the most common problems reported by users. Topping the list of complaints is a glitch affecting users' Circles. As Google explains, "After blocking someone, they may not be removed from your extended circles." Google has yet to offer a solution for this problem, writing instead, "We're working to improve this functionality." Some users have also reported that posts from users they've blocked still appear in their streams; others have blocked a user, only to find they were added to the blocked user's Circles.
According to the Google+ Help page, users have also noticed several problems with the stream of updates associated with their personal profiles. Some power users have found, for example, their old posts seem to disappear from their stream as new updates are posted. Google explains the problem thus: "If you have a lot of posts, you may not be able to see everything on the 'Posts' tab of your profile -- even if you click More repeatedly. Don't worry, your posts haven't been deleted and links to them will still work." Is there a fix? Not yet. "We're just temporarily having trouble displaying these old posts. Our team is working hard to fix this issue," Google writes on the +Help page.
Some of users' biggest complaints about the Google+ mobile app revolved around its limited feature set, when compared to the web-based platform. On September 20, Google announced a huge update for the app and introduced a host of features that users had been pining for, such as joining video chats (aka Hangouts) and searching for content on the social network. Even after the update, though, there are a few features that are customers find to be lacking, such as the ability to edit your personal profile via mobile. iPad users in particular complain that the iOS app, which is designed primarily for use on the iPhone, doesn't take advantage of the tablet's larger screen.