Has Google+ Become a Competitive Social Alternative?

A lot has been discussed about in the tech industry concerning the potential (and necessity) of the upstart social network Google+.

In recent months, questions have been raised about just how successful Google's foray into social will actually be, but the unveiling of a host of new features and changes yesterday may finally position G+ to give Facebook and Twitter a run for their money.

What's Hot
Social network users will probably find the new "What's Hot" feature a little familiar; designated areas (below new posts in the main stream and in the Sparks section on the left sidebar) will allow Plussers to quickly discover a diverse variety of popular content from the farthest reaches of Google+. This new feature ties in nicely with their recently implemented real-time search tool, and does a great job of combining the best of Facebook's updated news feed and Twitter's trending topics section.

Creative Kit
A big part of Facebook's appeal is that it is a great place to house and share personal photos in one convenient location. And though this is also an option on Google+, it hasn't yet infringed on Facebook's photo sharing dominance. Now, Google has introduced the Creative Kit, a "collection of powerful tools and effects" that builds on the site's old photo editing capabilities and allows users to add filters, text and other effects to their photos before sharing them with their circles. Heretofore, Facebook has yet to integrate a strong photo editing suite, so this development gives Google+ a distinct edge in the photo sharing department.

Ripples is an interesting new feature rolled out by Google+ that gives Plussers the opportunity fo "visually follow the flow of a conversation" by looking at data gleaned from analytics. This lets G+ offer regular users much more information about the history of their posts than other social networks present, and it comes in an attractive and visually-stimulating package on the Googleplex. All one has to do is click the "View Ripples" button on any of his or her public posts to instantly watch how it "flows" across Google+.

Google Plus for Apps
The biggest news of the day, however, was that Google+ will now be available for Google Apps customers, allowing administrators to manually integrate G+ into their organizations. When developers utilize Google Plus for Apps into their organizations, they will be able to use all of the same features as the public version of G+, and those on the team who are already "personal Plussers" for work will be able to migrate their circles and friends over to their new accounts, though the migration tools won't be released for a few weeks. Finally, app development organizations (who pay Google to use its Web services) will be able to use Google+ features for work, such as employing Google Docs in Hangouts to collaborate on projects.

These various changes to Google+ are exactly what the social network needs to focus on. As the newest major player in the social realm, Google+ has a special opportunity to take the best features from industry leaders Facebook and Twitter and retool them for their own platform. By adding their own unique flare and options, as well as focusing on Google Plus for Apps as a business development tool, G+ is finally carving out its own space on the Web.