Five months after its initial launch, social network Google+ launched Pages, its answer to Facebook Fan pages - public profiles linked to brands and organizations.  Previously, Google+ refused to allow companies to set up such profiles on the grounds that it had not yet established ground rules for doing so.

Yet, it seems that the time between its public launch in September and today has been used well by the search engine giant. Several new features make Google+ Pages a natural corollary to both Google+ profiles and Google itself.  One in particular, Direct Connect, has been given particular attention for its role in the seamless integration of Google.com and Google+ Pages: when searing for a business' Google+ Page, insert a + before the business name and Google will take you directly to the profile.

Of course, this does call to mind Google CEO Eric Schmidt's responses to the questions of several senators on the subject of possible anti-trust practices on the part of the company. In his response, Schmidt contended that Google search practices no favoritism of its own products. The question of whether we 'favor' our 'products and services' is based on an inaccurate premise, Schmidt wrote. These universal search results are our search service-they are not some separate 'Google content' that can be 'favored.'

While the Direct Connect option is not technically a part of the search services offered by Google, there is no doubt that the search giant will have to do some fast talking to placate critics, for whom the line between 'search' and 'search engine tool' will be uncomfortably blurry.