Google+ Finally Opens to the Public, Adds Tons of New Features

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Google+ is finally open to the public, no invitation required. Not that it was difficult to snag an invite anyway, but now we’ll get a chance to see what the service is fully capable of as more users tiptoe in and begin poking around.

In addition to 91 other improvements that G+ has added over the past 90 days, Google took to its blog to announce nine new tweaks to coincide with today’s public release. They note that Google+ is officially out of “field testing” and can now be considered beta (meaning: expect bugs).

The announcement comes a few days before Facebook’s big F8 conference and during a stretch that saw Zuck’s social network rattle off a few commendable changes of its own. The social network wars are heating up, and even that may be an understatement. Now at least everyone will get a chance to see what all the fuss (or hype) is all about.

(LIST: A Brief History of Google’s Social Networking Flops)

Here’s a quick list of Google+’s upgrades:

New mobile Hangouts

Android owners with front-facing cameras will now be able to take advantage of G+’s Hangouts feature right from their smartphone thanks to an updated app that they can download from the Marketplace. Google promises that iOS support is coming soon.

Hangouts “On Air”

Google+ plays home to lots of Internet celebrities with large audiences. Now you’ll be able to publicly broadcast your Hangout sessions—with up to nine people participating—to large audiences over the web (kind of like U-Stream). They’re promoting a public Hangout with will.i.am on Wednesday, September 21st…because, you know, celebrities don’t have enough megaphones.

Hangouts with extras

Now you’ll be able to use Hangouts for more than just video chatting. Here’s what you’ll be able to do in Google’s own words:

- Screensharing: for when you want to show off your vacation photos, your high score, your lesson plan or whatever else is on your screen
– Sketchpad: for when you want to draw, doodle, or just scribble together
– Google Docs: for when you want to write, plan or present something with others
– Named Hangouts: for when you want to join or create a public hangout about a certain topic (like fashion or music or sports…)

Screensharing and Google Docs is big. It effectively turns Google+ into the collaborative telecommuting tool like Buzz was supposed to be. It’ll be interesting to see if small business ends up taking to it.

Search in Google+

You’ll now be able to search within Google+ for exactly the type of content you’re looking for, like relevant people or posts. The search only includes public items that you can see. Implementing social search likely took as long as it did because Google had to essentially tiptoe through a host of privacy concerns. Still, search is something they do well and a welcome adjustment.

Click here to learn more about Google+’s public unveiling, or head straight to the service and start playing around yourself.

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Chris Gayomali is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @chrigz, on Facebook, or on Google+. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.