Social networking has just become a free-for-all - as if it didn't feel that way already - now that Google has launched Pages for Google Plus. On the surface, the new feature feels like Google's version of Facebook fan pages, a place where companies, celebrities and other "brands" can interact with their customers and followers by sharing news or engaging in discussions.
But Google brings something extra, something that Facebook and Twitter can't offer - the power of open Web search. By adding Google+ Pages to Google search results and building in a one-key shortcut to Google+ Pages via the query box, Google is giving itself the advantage here.
Mind you, I can do a Google search for CNN's Twitter page or Amazon's Facebook page by typing "CNN Twitter" or "Amazon Facebook" and find those pages at the top of the results.
But with Google shortcut called Direct Connect, all I have to do is type a "+" in front of the company name - such as "+Amazon" - and the Google+ Page comes up. Better yet, just by typing "+A" into the search box, I get a listing of Google+ Pages for Amazon, AT&T, Angry Birds and ABC News. And surely, there will soon be more in that list.
In that sense, a Google+ Page becomes a must-have for any company looking to establish a presence on the Internet, just as a Web site itself was the must-have a decade ago and Twitter and Facebooks accounts have been in recent years. The difference is that Facebook and Twitter have largely been closed-wall gardens, a members-only type of environment.
By contrast, Google - the search engine itself - has always been open, a place that anyone could visit to conduct a search without having to first log-in. Sure, Google+ is just as much a members-only type of place as the other - but that caveat could easily be overlooked by anyone who simply goes to Google.com to conduct a simple search.
Suddenly, finding Pepsi's Google+ page just got a lot easier.
It's definitely a one-up on Facebook and Twitter - but also must have Microsoft thinking again about the connection between social and search and how Bing, its own search offering, suddenly feels like it's missing an important piece of the puzzle.
It's as if we've ventured into the open frontier of the Internet again, except this time it's hosted on Google, not Bing, and uses the same design template as everyone else.
You see, this is no longer just about "social." This is the face of the new interactive Internet, a one-up over the traditional Web site. These Google+ pages are powered by search, share and followers. This isn't a static place where companies host their corporate blogs or post their news releases. This is a dynamic environment where companies host live video "hangout" sessions and engage in discussions with their followers.
And as important as search becomes in the social network battles, it's only the beginning. Think for a moment about all of the other Google properties and how they might interact with these new Google+ pages. Google owns YouTube and, aside from the embedding videos into Google+ posts, you can imagine that Google+ Pages and YouTube channels might soon become chummier.
Likewise, I imagine that Google+ Pages might soon find themselves "localized" and built into Google Maps results. Better yet, as a powerhouse with its Android mobile OS, it's not hard to imagine that Google+ pages would get wrapped into location-based services to help fans find nearby locations - and specials - at the businesses they "follow" when they're out and about.
Clearly, I'm getting ahead of myself here - but Vic Gundotra, senior VP of engineering, left the door open in a blog post announcing the news this week. He wrote:
With Google+, we strive to bring the nuance and richness of real-life sharing to software. Today’s initial launch of Google+ Pages brings us a little bit closer, but we’ve still got lots of improvements planned, and miles to go before we sleep. So stay tuned.