Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) has added the ability for Google+ users to make free phone calls from within the social networks Hangouts video chat application.
Hangouts, which enables users to trigger video conferencing sessions for up to 10 users in a single session, has been one of the most popular features for Google+ since the search engine launched the social network June 28.
Google+ users have used Hangouts to perform music for live audiences, teach cooking classes, and provide other instructional tutorials. The service is also linked to YouTube, enabling users to click to initiate Hangouts right from the video-sharing Website.
Now Google has added another communication mode with Hangouts. Google employee and the creator of Internet Relay Chat (IRC) Jarkko Oikarinen said Hangouts participants can now make phone calls from inside a hangout, "so you can dial people into the room from wherever they're at."
This feature, Oikarinen explained in a post on Google+, can prove useful for party lines and conference calls. allowing people who aren't Google+ users (or even on a computer) to listen in on and participate in Hangouts sessions from their phones.
The feature is initially available free through 2012 for calls made to the U.S. and Canada to Google+ users as a feature of Hangouts with extras, the company's experimental Hangouts site.
To make a calls, users must click "Invite" at the top of the Hangouts with extras window, then click the phone tab on the left of the window, and enter the phone number they want to call. Finally, click "call now" to complete the call.
Phone call integration isn't new among Google's Web services. The company has been gradually layering its Google Voice phone management application across Gmail and other services.
Phone calls isn't the only big communications change Google has made to Google+. Google Chat has existed in Google+ since its launch. However, it was previously limited to users who knew a contact's e-mail address.
Now Google+ users can chat with anyone in their Circles who have also added them to their Circles. Obviously, some Google+ users can have hundreds or thousands of contacts, which would make listing all of the Chat contact untenable.
Google+ will only display contacts from a user's most recent conversations who are online now. However, users can use the search box at the top of the Chat list to find contacts that aren't displayed.
Interestingly, Google didn't limit this functionality to its social network. When a user and his or her contacts follows each other in Google+, they can also follow each other in Gmail, Google Plus, iGoogle, Orkut, and the Google Talk Client.