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Google+ opens to all, ends invitation-only beta

In this May 11, 2011 file photo, attendees chat at the Google IO Developers Conference in San Francisco.

Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP/Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP

Google Inc trotted out the latest improvements to its "Google+" social network Tuesday, opening up the network to all, integrating its search engine into the site and expanding its "Hangouts" feature to allow mobile use and broadcasting.

Google confirmed the opening of the social network Tuesday. Previously it had been invitation-only. Google did not say how many people had signed up so far, but analysts estimate upwards of 25 million users have joined Google+ since its inception.

The company also made its search engine available from within the social network. Users can search from Google+ and get results not just on the network, but from the worldwide Internet.

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The tweaks underscored how the Internet search and advertising leader is ramping up its 3-month-old social network to take on Facebook and fight to attract and retain web sufers' time online.

On Tuesday, the company said on its official blog that the well-received Hangouts feature – where up to nine users can link up and chat on video – will now be available on smartphones equipped with cameras and powered by its own Android software. Support for Apple Inc devices "is coming soon," it added.

And a user can now host an online broadcast with this feature — recording a session and broadcasting it live for public access online. Black Eyed Peas front man will host the first "Hangout on Air" on Wednesday, Google said.

"Hangouts should keep pace with how you socialize in the real-world, so today we're launching it on the one device that's always by your side: your mobile phone," senior vice president of engineering Vic Gundotra said on the blogpost.

"We're nowhere near done, but with the improvements we've made so far we're ready to move from field trial to beta," Gundotra said.

Google's infant social network, which counts Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg as a member, has met skepticism so far. Some are waiting to see if it can maintain the rapid momentum of its first months.

If CEO Larry Page's brainchild — which some say mimics better than Facebook the instinctive categorizing of friends that occurs in real life — takes off, it will come at a pivotal moment for its bigger rival.

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Facebook, still by far the world's most populous online social network with more than 750 million users, is widely expected to go public in 2012.

Tuesday's upgrades to Google+ come two days ahead of Facebook's f8 conference in San Francisco, where the company is expected to unveil several new features.

With files from The Associated Press

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