Late Thursday evening, Google quietly rolled out a new feature of Google+. Or is it a new feature of YouTube? Actually, it’s both. Now, when you click the Share button on any YouTube video, you’ll get a link to start a Hangout. Click that link and you’ll get the same old Hangout pop up, this time with the video you were watching nestled nicely inside the Hangout. It’s a nifty feature. It’s also a glimpse of the future of Google+.
It wasn’t a secret that the launch of Google+ was more than just a new service launch. They didn’t call it Google+. They called it “The Google+ Project”. In the same week, the Google search results page and Google Calendar got a facelift to match the clean look that Google+ brought. Since then, YouTube, Google Maps, Google Books, and Google Translate, among others, have seen either minor or major appearance revamps to match the new look. The Google+ Project wasn’t just about competing with Facebook, or even making their products social. The Google+ Project is about uniting Google’s services, with a focus on clean design, and a renewed focus on integrating them all into a coherent package.
Last month, Google’s corporate blog reiterated Larry Page’s intent to put “more wood behind fewer arrows“. This clearly means two things: one, they’ve fired the department that writes their metaphors, and two, they’re going to attempt to narrow done which products they choose, and making those projects better.
This new button seems pretty minor at first glance. However, YouTube is, by far, the single most popular, culturally significant property Google owns, and there is now a direct link to one of the standout features of Google’s social network directly embedded in every single video on YouTube. This is the second major, yet subtle, pervasive piece of Google+. The first being the inclusion of the notification system in every major Google product’s top-most navigation bar.
Google intends to blur the lines between their products. Google Talk, their instant messaging service, is a part of Gmail, it’s built into Google+, and it’s part of Android. YouTube videos can play directly inside of your Google+ News Feed, and now you don’t need to go to Google+ to watch a video you’re already watching on YouTube in a video chat with your friends. The ultimate goal is for everything that should link together to do so.
This is a big deal for a variety of reasons, but the biggest of them is that it’s something that no one else can do. Google the search engine is more or less synonymous with the internet. YouTube is the dominant player in video streaming to the point where other services hardly matter. Facebook attempts to be part of everything you do online, but they can only do so much, since facebook.com is really the only service they control. Google is already a part of what you do online, and the Google+ Project is less about creating yet another tab where you have yet another news feed, and more about taking all of those tabs that you’re already in and bringing them together to create an entire online universe.
In a way, it’s what AOL and their kin tried to do in the early days of the internet. They wanted to take the chaos of the internet and create a centralized place to get to everything you want quickly and easily in one place. Google is coming dangerously close to being the first company to pull that off in a real, tangible way that doesn’t suck.
The Hangout button in YouTube is also important for another reason: YouTube has the most visitors that aren’t already Google devotees of all Google products. This tiny little button has immediately become the biggest ad for Google+ on the internet right now.
Make no mistake. This Google+ thing isn’t just a hobby for Google like Wave or Buzz were. For better or worse (and it’s really too early to tell which it is), Google is going to keep pushing this Google+ thing in a big way. And with 25 million users and counting, I doubt they’ll be lacking in support.