Google+ recently announced a new feature which allows users to chat with people in mutual circles. The new feature is aimed at making it easier for users to communicate with people in their social circles, that they might not otherwise have a chance to communicate with. Before the feature was added, users had to have each other's email address, before they could directly contact one another. Now, as long as you have added someone to your circles, and they've added you to theirs, you can easily chat on or off the Google+ website.
Google+ enables people to organize their contacts into social circles, like family, co-workers, BFFs and other categories. This feature is a huge draw to the social network, because it allows people to control which social circles get to view each post made by the user. Competitors, like Facebook, lack the ability to discriminate who gets access to status updates, which causes people to censor themselves so they don't get in trouble with their parents or bosses. Some people don't censor themselves, and have caused relationships to break up and even lost their jobs because of irresponsible Facebook posts.
One advantage Facebook previously had over Google+, however, is the ability to easily chat with mutual contacts, called "friends" on Facebook. Facebook had an established chat application for users, but also allows people to engage in conversation on mutual friend's posts, if the individual privacy settings allow for it. This is a great way for people to make new social connections and get to know each other better. Google+ took notice of this advantage, and remedied it with the mutual circles chat feature.
The chat feature is now located at the bottom of the left column of the Google+ homepage. Users accessing this feature for the first time will notice a brief explanation and are required to hit the "okay" button before activating the chat window. Once activated, a list of contacts will appear who you've added to your circles and who've added you back. Those familiar with gmail chat will recognize the chat window. A green circle will appear to the left of any of your mutual contacts that are online and available to chat.
Google+ chat feature has an advantage over Facebook chat, in that users are not required to be on the web page or app to engage in chat. Users can chat with their mutual contacts via other Google products, such as Gmail, Google's Talk client, Orkut, iGoogle and other 3rd party applications.
The chat list also improved on other platforms lists, in that Google+ prioritizes the people on the list based on who you have the most contact with and who is currently online. Facebook received quite a bit of criticism for their chat list layout, which took up the entire right side of the web page, listing as many contacts as space allowed.
The new chat feature defaults to allow all of your mutual circle contacts to chat with you. However, the privacy settings allow users to enable or disable entire circles for chat, as well as block individual users from chat. According to a spokesperson from Google, the chat was created to make it easier for people to chat with people they care about, but the company is also careful to protect user privacy and preferences.