The new feature offers the possibility of connection via email. If I reach out to you in this way, you'll receive a single email from me. You'll know my email address, I won't learn your email address unless you reply. If you use Gmail, my email will show up in the "social" tab, unless you happen to have me in a Google+ circle. If you do, then my email will be in your "primary" tab.
The feature is an extension of Google's "Contact via Profile" feature, which has been available — and similarly customizable — for some time. "Contact via Profile" allows any Google+ to contact another Google+ user.
Google enables the feature by default for individual Google+ users, but requires an administrator to enable the feature for Google Apps accounts.
Enable "Emailing Profiles" for Google Apps (Administrators only)
To enable the feature, an administrator logs in to to the organization's Google Apps admin console at http://admin.google.com" target="_blank">http://admin.google.com, navigates to Google Apps > Gmail > User Settings > then scrolls to "Emailing Profiles". Check the box next to "Let users send and receive emails via Google+ profiles".
Adjust "Email via Google+" settings (Gmail users)
As a Gmail user, you control who may send you that initial email from Google+ without knowing your address. Adjust the setting to your liking by logging in to Gmail, then going to the Sprocket menu > Settings > General tab > then scroll down to "Email via Google+". Choose to limit who may send you email via Google+ to "Anyone on Google+", "Extended Circles", "Circles" or "No one".
Google also enhanced Gmail's auto-complete address list to suggest people in your Google+ circles. Google+ users you've circled will display as potential email recipients, even if you don't already have their email address. (For more details, see Google's support page on the topic.)
Minimal chance of spam
The potential for spam does exist. Spammers could create Google+ accounts, circle people, then send each person a single email. A spammer reveals their email address when emailing your Google+ profile. If you don't respond — or choose to "Report Spam or Abuse" as a result of the email — no further email connection is possible. Remember, Google controls both the Google+ and Gmail accounts from which spam may potentially be sent. I think that significantly reduces the potential for spam.
Best for people open to new connectionsThe press reported the new feature with headlines raising alarms about privacy. For example, The Guardian published a piece by Charles Arthur titled "Privacy concerns raised as Google+ makes it possible to send email via name search". The piece fails to acknowledge that Google+ profiles already were visible. The change simply means that now, any Google+ user can send another Google+ user an email — without already knowing their email address.
The feature enables you to reach out and communicate directly with another person. At worst, the connection may result in the recipient pressing the "Report spam or abuse" button. But the connection may also enable new ideas to spread, new friendships to develop, and new customers to be created.
Where some see a decrease in privacy, I see an increase in the possibility of meaningful new connections. I recommend organizations using Google Apps enable the ability for users to send and receive emails via Google+ profiles.
Andy Wolber helps people understand and leverage technology for social impact. He resides in Ann Arbor, MI with his wife, Liz, and daughter, Katie.