Google is working to make its Google+ social platform even more useful for users by encouraging participants to build and nurture online communities about the things they love, from sports to collecting to cooking and more.
Google+ has been around since June 2011, when it was started by the company as an online offering to compete with Facebook, or at least to give Google a piece of the social networking pie. Users were able to share events and news online with others in their "circles," then connect with others in their friends' circles, too.
But more was needed, according to a Dec. 6 post by Vic Gundotra, senior vice president of Google+, on the Google Official Blog.
"From photography to astronomy (and everything in between), Google+ has always been a place to crowd around common interests and meet new people," wrote Gundotra. "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. With Google+ Communities there's now a gathering place for your passions."
So what do the folks at Google+ have in mind?
The new online communities can include all kinds of interest groups, from cars to books to gardening and more. The communities can be set up to be open to anyone on Google+ or they can be private groups closed to the general public, according to Google+.
There are even discussion categories that are set up so that users can find the conversations they are interested in joining. Users also have the option of starting integral Google+ Hangouts inside their communities and to plan events to engage the members even more.
To help the communities grow, members can share them on Google+ using the "+1 button" across the Internet, wrote Gundotra.
Finding the new communities feature is easy. Users can click on the new "Communities" icon on the left side of the Google+ toolbar. There users can join one of the communities that have already been started, or click the red "Create A Community" button above to get a new community up and running.
So far, the new service is in preview mode and mobile services will be coming soon, according to Google.
The communities set up so far include Space, Exploration, Star Wars, Auto Enthusiasts, Vintage Japanese Motorcycles, Android Development, Rare and Collectible Books, Paperback Book Hunters, Gardening, Music and more.
The idea for Google+ Communities was to help users find other people whom they need to know and "to make online sharing as meaningful as the real thing," wrote Gundotra. "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."
So far, more than 500 million people have upgraded their Google accounts to Google+, including 235 million who are active and about 135 million who are mostly observers, according to Google.
Google has been tweaking its Google+ offerings often to try to grow its user base and make it a must-visit destination for consumers who are already deeply entrenched in more mature social networks including Facebook.
In August, Google+ added some innovative tools for enterprises to try to bolster the appeal of Google+ for business users. The new Google+ features gave business users the ability to control who can see their posts on Google+, video conferencing that's integrated with other Google Apps, and new administrative controls over posts and who can view them.
In June, Google+ partnered with Flipboard to draw more users in to the Google+ community. That deal added users' Google+ news streams to the Flipboard app for iPhones and iPads, joining similar streams of user content from Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Tumblr and Instagram. Flipboard allows users to bring together all these forms of content in one place on their personal devices, making it easy to sort, read and review.