Google has added a communities section to its Google+ social networking site to give users a tool to gather around common interests.
Google+ Communities lets users create and join public or private groups, add discussion elements, plan events, conduct Hangout video chats and post links using +1 buttons on external websites.
The Communities section is rolling out to users Thursday in preview mode. It will be available in mobile devices later.
The company has also enhanced its recently acquired Snapseed mobile photo sharing and editing application, releasing its first Android version and upgrading the existing iOS application.
Snapseed, a competitor to Facebook's Instagram, is integrated with Google+ to simplify posting of photos on the site. Google has also made Snapseed free. It previously cost US$4.99. Google acquired Snapseed's developer Nik Software in September.
The Google+ Communities launch and the Snapseed enhancements are aimed at helping users "bring the nuance and richness of real-life sharing to software," wrote Vic Gundotra, a Google senior vice president, in a blog post on Thursday.
He also provided an update on Google+ usage, stating that more than 500 million people have set up profiles, of which 235 million are active "across Google," which means they are using Google+ functionality like video chat Hangouts and sharing links via +1 buttons in other Google products like Gmail. Another 135 million are using Google+ as a stand-alone social networking service, according to Gundotra.