Jan 26, 2012

Google's (GOOG) social network continues to adapt in an attempt to add more users and challenge Facebook, allowing teenagers younger than 18 the ability to join Google+ and expanding the use of pseudonyms on the site.

Since its introduction last June, Google+ had banned users younger than 18 from joining the site. On Thursday, Google Vice President of Product Management Bradley Horowitz said in a Google+ post that the site would begin allowing children as young as 13 to join the site now that it has established some new safeguards that it hopes provides a more protected online environment.

"In life, for instance, teens can share the right things with just the right people (like classmates, parents or close ties). ... Sadly, today's most popular online tools are rigid and brittle by comparison, so teens end up over-sharing with all of their so-called 'friends,' " Horowitz wrote.

To promote safety in communications from minors, Google+ will ask them to confirm a public post before it is shared, to ensure the teen truly wants to share the information with friends outside their own Circles, the social network's contacts framework. Only users within a teenager's Circles can contact them, and if a stranger joins a minor's Google+ hangout -- a group video chat -- the teen will be temporarily removed and informed of the person's presence before being allowed to rejoin.

"Our approach is straightforward: build awesome features that teens really want, encourage safe behavior through appropriate defaults and in-product help, and make abuse reporting tools easy to find and use," Horowitz wrote.

Thursday's addition of younger users and new safety features follows a move earlier this week to allow users slightly more leeway in using nicknames and pseudonyms on the service.

The Mountain View company banned the use of pseudonyms as the main name on a Google+ profile early in the social network's life span, causing an uproar among some users who are known more by names they use online than their real name. On Tuesday, Horowitz announced that they will allow users to add nicknames to their main Google profile name with parentheses, using "Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson" as an example. The company will also allow pseudonyms on a case-by-case basis, with the user having to provide Google with evidence that the name is an established pseudonym in order to have it approved -- Horowitz used Madonna as an example.

Google CEO Larry Page said last week in a conference call on the company's quarterly earnings that Google+ has signed up 90 million members since its inception, a far cry from the 800 million users on Facebook, which also allows users as young as 13.
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