Happy birthday Google+. On this day in 2011, Google announced its social progeny, Google+ to the world as an invite only service. The world responded by questioning its purpose, comparing it to Facebook and declaring it dead -- several times. 

But, Google+ is still here, and it doesn’t appear to be going anywhere. Google has made it clear its social endeavor is not a mere social network. It’s a social fabric Google plans to weave into all of its products and services. User numbers are continuing to increase and several vocal advocates of the platform have emerged. What’s next for Google+?

+1 for Google+

Google+ isn’t Google’s first social endeavor. Google quietly launched Orkut in 2004. It never gained traction in the US, but is extremely popular in Brazil, India and Japan. In fact, Facebook only managed to surpass Orkut to become the leading social network for Brazil in December. It’s almost certain that Google will eventually replace Orkut with Google+, but it’s unlikely it will occur in the short term.

Google is focused on the long term. The company has continued to iteratively add features to the platform since its launch. It has also continued to add users. This week at Google I/O, the company announced a new Events feature for Google+ and an app for Android tablets. The company promised that an iPad version would soon follow.

Google also revealed Google+ has over 250 million registered users. These milestones could increase the number of active users and the amount of content shared on the service.

Even if these changes don’t deliver higher user numbers, Google+ already includes several features to entice users. Hangouts, a video chat feature, has attracted everyone from tech reporters to David Beckham and the Dali Lama. Circles allow users to create groups that can be used to selectively share content. Facebook implemented a similar feature less than two months later. Ripples allows users to see the impact of their posts.

Of course, Google has also made a number of mistakes with Google+. It’s handling of businesses was by all accounts a disaster. Google+ initially prohibited brands and even deleted pages for popular businesses like Mashable and Sesame Street. Google finally rolled out brand pages in November.

There were similar problems with Google Apps. Google didn’t grant Google Apps users access to Google+ until October -- a huge miss. In addition to the access issues, Google has been very slow in rolling out an API for Google+. Google has explained its anemic API saying it didn’t want to make mistakes and anger developers.

The glacial pace has had the exact effect Google says it was trying to avoid. There may be light at the end of the tunnel though; this month Google gave Flipboard a more full-featured API that may eventually be exposed to the public.

What's Next

Google is clearly committed to Google+. In the next year, Google will need to deliver a full API and grow its third-party ecosystem. Pages and pages of Twitter and Facebook apps were key to driving adoption of those networks.

Google should also consider being a little more transparent about its user numbers. Google+ may have a large number of registered users, but the number of active is almost certainly much, much lower.

Google will continue to integrate Google+ across its properties, including search. By the time Google+ turns three, it may be completely invisible. Google will have had enough time to condition users to share and interact from where ever they are in the Googleverse -- on maps, paging through search, working on documents or playing games.

Happy birthday Google+, you have some very busy years ahead.