Thursday brought news via Facebook that Google's new social service will throw open the doors to the entire public on July 31, 2011. At this point, the news is merely rumor, as this particular Facebook page isn't officially sanctioned by Google. We also haven't seen anything pop up from Google employees on Google+ itself.
"Google plus in beta reaches 18 million users," the Facebook page reads. "At this rate, it will be around 100 million in 3 months. But the growth rate is expected to rise when the site goes public on 31st July."
The Wall Street Journal spouts a different number than the unofficial Google+ Facebook page, reporting that the social site has already reeled in 20 million users... and it's not even open to the public. The number stems from an estimate provided by web-traffic watcher comScore Inc. on Wednesday and includes the 5 million users planted in the United States.
"I've never seen anything grow this quickly," said Andrew Lipsman, vice president of industry analysis at comScore. He added that the only other site that has accumulated as many new visitors in a short period of time is Twitter in 2009, but that happened over several months. Google+ has been in invite-only mode for only three weeks.
According to the paper, comScore produced its 20 million estimate by using a similar approach Nielsen utilizes to measure television ratings. Thus, rather than relying on actual hard data piped in from Google, the estimate was made based on a "global measurement panel" of two million Internet users.
As for the July 31 date, there may be more involved than simply going public with Google+. Various reports are indicating that Google may actually launch its gaming platform on that date based on a Google+ help page which for a short time mentioned gaming. Unfortunately, the company has removed any hints since initial reports surfaced, but apparently previously read that "if you're looking for updates shared from games, check out your Games stream."
This in itself is good news, as it means the main news feed won't be clogged with requests for pink cows or "helping hands." Then again, that's one of the big benefits in using Google's social network: you can filter incoming and outgoing based on who is in what circle.
Will Google offer a better gaming platform than Facebook? Reports indicate that the company will allow developers to build games that not only make use of Google+, but other Google platforms as well. Games will also run on Google servers instead of external data centers, saving developers quite a bit of money and computing power. Google won't even charge for hosting the games, and will reportedly offer better terms than rival Facebook.
Finally on Friday Google said that it made changes with chat in relation to Google+, seemingly signaling the upcoming public launch. "We wanted to offer more control over who you can chat with in Google Plus," the company said. "So we've made a change that requires you to explicitly invite people for them to appear in your chat list. For Gmail, orkut, and iGoogle users, we'll continue to include the people you can already chat with in those properties."
"Please note that all users in your chat list will have access to your email address," Google added. "We are working hard to remove this restriction so that you can invite your circles more easily in the coming months."