Google+ communities arrive

Google+ adds communities to its social networking features. Will this be Google+'s killer app?
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor
Google+ communities for gamers, programmers or any other group you care to create, have started rolling out.

Vic Gundotra, Google's senior VP of engineering, announced on December 6th that Google has started adding Google+ communities—online Google+ groups devoted to a specific topic such as a work project, a football team, Guild Wars 2 play, whatever—to Google+'s social-network offerings.

Gundotra said, “We started Google+ in the first place to make online sharing as meaningful as the real thing. Too often, our online tools miss the subtlety and substance of real-world interactions, and Google+ aims to fix this. Fortunately we've got a vibrant community to guide us."

He continued, "What’s been missing, however, are more permanent homes for all the stuff you love: the wonderful, the weird, and yes, even the things that are waaay out there.”

Google+ Communities promises to be “a gathering place for your passions,” Gundotra said, supporting:

  • Public or private membership for all kinds of communities with similar interests, whether a shared topic (such as photography) to local neighborhoods to regular poker nights.
  • Discussion categories to make it easier for G+ members to find the conversations they care about
  • The option to start hangouts and plan events with community members
  • Features to share with a community from any +1 button across the Web

I am glad to see this community launch. Google+ circles should have made it easy for people with a particular interest – in Linux, writing science fiction, chess – to talk together. That functionality was never built into Circles, though.

Circles are good at other things, such as sharing and keeping track of friends, family, or co-workers and, to a far lesser extent, keeping in touch with people with similar interests. But they don’t let you focus on a topic; you just get a stream from a person.
For example, I have many people in my Linux circles and other have me in their Linux circles. But none of us always writes about Linux.

So, yes, if you follow Linus Torvalds, you'll read a lot about Linux, but you'll also read a lot about his thoughts on scuba-diving. If you follow me, you'll read my Linux-related posts, but you'll also see a link to the new Star Trek Into Darkness trailer. Perhaps you don’t mind that – how many Linux fans wouldn’t care about Star Trek? – but you might prefer to hear from me only when it’s on a subject you care about intensely.

Creating a Google+ Community is child's play.

To create a Google+ community, take the following steps:

  • Go to https://plus.google.com/communities and click create community.
  • Choose whether yours should be a public or private community.
  • Give it a name.
  • Decide if you want to approve new members who want to join.

Be careful with that second step. Once you've made this setting, you can't take it back.

There will be four kinds of Google+ communites: two public and two private. A public group is one that anyone can join, post, and comment on or one where only moderators can post but anyone can view and comment. All content from public groups is indexed and discoverable through search on Google+, a point you might want to keep in mind for privacy concerns.

The distinction in private groups is how findable it ought to be. You can create a private group that is members-only but which can be discovered by search; or create a private group that really is private, and can only be found if you know its URL.

Google+ Communities are still being rolled out and it's not available yet to all users. Personally, I'm really looking forward to it.

I think Google+ is the best social network around and it can double as a blogging platform as well. With Communities, Google+ will make it easy for anyone from Android fans to my local bridge club to talk amongst themselves about just that subject. You can sort of do this kind of thing with hashtags on Twitter, but it's not nearly as sophisticated. Communities, in my view, may prove to be Google+'s killer feature.

Not that it’s hurting now. In a separate post, Gundotra also said that Google+ now has 500-million users, 135 million of whom are active. With Communities, Google+ may well end up giving Facebook a run for its money as the biggest social network of all.

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