The latest feature in Google+ marks an effort to make the social network more popular as a destination.
While Google+ has been a relatively quiet corner of the Web, the site has definitely attracted some close-knit groups. Photographers, in particular, have gravitated to the site, finding it an effective way to share their work with a large, receptive audience.
Now Google is introducing a feature that the company hopes will spur more groups to make Google+ their social network of choice. Google+ Communities, which will integrate group functions into the social network, are rolling out across the site today.
"We see Google+ Communities as the next logical step for groups of people that have already formed on Google+, and those yet to form," Bradley Horowitz, Google+ vice president for product, told CNET in an e-mail. "From the beginning of Google+ we've seen communities grow organically on the platform. Photographers, chefs, knitters, techies, you name it, they're all people who have come together to talk about the things they really care about."
Last week, CNET wrote about how Google+ can succeed even if it never becomes a top Web destination. But the company says it's gaining momentum: Google announced today that 500 million people have created profiles, 235 million people have used at least one of its features (like +1'ing a Web page), and 135 million visit plus.google.com monthly. (That's up from 100 million in September.)
The one stat Google didn't release: how many minutes a day active users are spending on Google+. Increased engagement remains a high priority for Google executives, and today's update reflects that.
Communities offer a straightforward group experience that will be familiar to anyone who has used a Web-based groups product before. Groups have been part of the Web more or less since the beginning, evolving out of Usenet to more fully featured, graphically rich groups that could be easily used by churches, amateur sports teams, and book clubs. All the Web giants offer some kind of groups product -- including Google itself, which introduced Google Groups in 2001. The company will continue to support Google Groups, a spokesperson said.
Most recently, Facebook and Microsoft have introduced robust group offerings. Regardless of the company that built it, the groups products tend to offer similar functions: shared files, photos, and calendars, along with the ability to notify everyone in the group by sending a single message.
Groups with a twist
Communities bring a couple of Google+ twists to the genre, including the ability to host Hangout video chats with community members and use the Events calendar feature, which beyond basic planning lets attendees share photos from events more easily.
An interesting twist in Communities is that users can share links to their groups directly from the Web, using the +1 buttons that are now ubiquitous around the Web. Clicking +1 will bring up a box similar to the one you're used to, but with the added option to share the link with any groups to which you belong.
Communities can be created with four different privacy labels. One is totally private and can't be found through search; one is private but searchable; a third is public but requires moderator approval to begin posting; the last option is totally public, with all members able to post. On communities with privacy settings enabled, administrators can add moderators and add and remove members.
Posts within the group will show up in users' main Google+ feeds, as well as the dedicated page for that community.
Below is a video from Google that explains Communities. Later today, you can visit the homepage here.