Covered in detail on the Google Official Blog earlier this week, the development team working on Google+ has rolled out a new feature called Google+ Communities. Somewhat similar to the concept of Facebook Groups, Google+ users can create public or private communities that are focused on a specific topic. Some of the more popular public communities that have generated interest among Google+ users since the launch of the new feature cover topics such as photography, space, Linux, Star Wars, running, parenting, video games, cooking and sports.
When creating a public community, Google+ users have the option of requiring moderator approval before another user can join the community. When creating a private community, Google+ users can hide it from the search function within Google+.
Private communities require a direct link to access the group. Similar to a regular Google+ profile, the Google+ user that sets up the community can give it a name as well as write a tagline for the group and select a photo that best represents the community.
In the About section, Google+ users can create a set of guidelines for the community in addition to discussion topics. When a member of the community posts content in the community feed, they will have the option of assigning a discussion topic to the content. This allows communities to categorize and group similar posts together. For instance, one of the photo communities includes discussion topics such as “Best Photo of 2012″ and “Gear Talk” as well as different forms of photography. In addition to the content feed, members of a Google+ community have the ability to start video hangouts with other community members as well as create events for the group.
To help Google+ users find groups that they are more likely to join, Google will display communities similar to the communities that a Google+ user has already created or joined. The development team has also included a search function to help users locate new groups.
Beyond the launch of Google+ communities, Google senior vice president Vic Gundotra also released usage numbers for the Google+ social network. Approximately 500 million people have upgraded from a normal Google account to a Google+ account and 235 million are actively using their Google+ account in Google applications.
Examples of this include using the Google+ video hangouts feature within Gmail or hitting the +1 button on applications in the Google Play store. In addition, approximately 135 million people are visiting the Google+ home page (plus.google.com) monthly. That’s a 35 percent increase compared to the number of Google+ visitors during September 2012.
Gundotra didn’t publicly announce the amount of time a typical Google+ user spends on the social network each month. A report released by comScore during early 2012 found that the average Google+ user spends approximately three minutes a month on the site, but Google’s social network was still relatively new at that point. Over the past year, the Google+ development team has worked to integrate elements of Google+ into other Google products including search, Gmail, Google Talk and YouTube. However, it’s likely that Google+ monthly usage still lags far behind Facebook. According to 2012 comScore data, the typical Facebook user spends between six to seven hours on the social network each month.