Back in June, Google unveiled Google+, sending waves of excitement through the technology press. As thousands of people rushed to sign up to the search giant’s Facebook competitor, access was made invitation only. It’s only recently that Google+ has been opened up so anyone can sign up.

So, now the initial fuss about the service has died down and it’s easy for anyone to sign up, how does Google+ sit alongside Facebook? Is there any chance – as Google seems to hope – of Google+ usurping Facebook to become the world’s most popular social networking tool?

Or is Google+ destined to become another Google Wave – confusing, rarely used and ultimately destined for closure?

Google+ is growing fast

Take-up of Google+ certainly indicates that the service is gaining traction with users. Some figures suggest that over 50 million people have signed up, and at its current rate of growth it’ll pass the once-cool MySpace very soon indeed.

That alone suggests that it would be unwise to ignore Google+. If early adopters are trying and liking the social network, there’s an excellent chance that user numbers will continue to swell.

Even if Google+ ends up carving out a niche for itself rather than going head-to-head with Facebook (perhaps it’ll sit somewhere between Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn in terms of functionality), it’ll still be wise to be in there. Quite simply, the best way to understand whether it’s a useful service for you is to try it.

Ignore search at your peril

What’s more, Google+ has one unique point that none of its competitors can lay claim to. As it’s run by the world’s biggest search engine, the potential for integrating search with Google+ (and vice versa), is enormous.

There’s a lot of evidence to suggest that Google intends to start using data from Google+ to influence how websites rank in search results. Much like Facebooks ‘like’ system, Google+ gives people the ability to ‘+1’ pages they like.

The obvious next step is to start using that ‘+1′ data as a way of understanding where pages should rank. So if you run a website, at the very least it’s wise to think about adding ‘+1’ buttons to your pages.

On a more individual level, there’s a lot of evidence to suggest that Google sees Google+ as the basis for other forthcoming services – a kind of identity platform for each of us on the internet. In short, there are some interesting times ahead for this service, which is really only in its infancy.

The current features are useful

But maybe the most obvious reason to start using Google+ is that it has the potential to be genuinely useful, right now.

Take ‘hangouts’, which let you hold video chats and share items between groups of friends. There’s not much else out there currently that does the same thing and is so easy to use. If you do in a business with lots of flexible or remote workers, it’s a good way to instantly bring everyone closer together.

And courtesy of ‘circles’ – which let you collect your contacts in groups like ‘friends’ or ‘colleagues’ – it’s suddenly much easier to keep professional and personal conversations separate.

As the service matures, Google+ has the potential to become an essential business communication tool. Its success isn’t guaranteed, but these are interesting times – and that’s why we think it’s worth signing up and trying out the service.