The New Google+ Is Only The Beginning

    April 12, 2012
    Chris Crum

Google launched a big redesign of Google+ on Wednesday. It’s in the process of rolling it out over the next few days. A Google spokesperson tells WebProNews, “The new version of Google+ will gradually start rolling out to all Google+ users globally this morning.”

Do you like the new Google+ design? Is it an improvement over the previous version? Tell us what you think.

“We think you’ll find it easier to use and nicer to look at, but most importantly, it accelerates our efforts to create a simpler, more beautiful Google,” says Vic Gundotra, one of the main brains behind Google+, in a post on Google+ itself.

The most noticeable change is the navigation, which is now on the left-hand side and can be manipulated by the user. You can move apps around to the order you want them in, hover over apps to see options, and show/hide apps by moving them to the “more” section.

“Taken together, these powers make it easier to access your favorites, and to adjust your preferences over time,” Gundotra says on the Google blog. “We’ve also built the ribbon with the future in mind, giving us an obvious (and clutter-free) space for The Next Big Feature, and The Feature After That. So stay tuned.”

Here’s what it looks like and a couple of videos Google posted, demoing the new layout:

New Google Plus design

The “What’s Hot” section has become part of a greater “Explore” section, which also points you to Google+ trends, and lets you view “ripples” on various posts in the stream (granted, it already did this).

Google Plus Explore section

There’s more emphasis on Hangouts. There’s a dedicated page just for Hangouts, including a list of invitations from people in your circles, easy access to every public/on air hangout, and what Google describes as “a rotating billboard of popular hangouts, pro tips and other items you don’t want to miss.”

For webmasters, developers, and those in marketing and/or in publishing, Google itself hosts a lot of useful hangouts that you will probably be able to find in this section. In fact, this feature could be huge for content discoverability and make Google+ a great deal more useful for video content alone. I’d look for future YouTube integrations in this department.

Google Plus Hangouts Page

Photography is another majar area of focus, and with good reason. Google presents the photo upgrades along with conversation upgrades, and that makes a great deal of sense. As you probably know, Facebook just bought Instagram, which is as much a social network as a photo app. Instagram (as well as Flickr and others over the years) have proven that conversation goes hand in hand with photography. It’s for this reason that Google+ has already been so popular among photographers, though the integration of PIcasa Web Albums and the instant upload feature have probably helped too.

Photos are an incredibly important part of social media, and certainly are strategically for the companies operating the social networks. Photos attract users, and they attract those users’ friends. It’s a simple as that. The better photo experience a user gets, the more likely they are to continue using that service, and showing their photos to said friends (and family), thereby promoting that service.

So, the new features in this department, are: full bleed photos and videos, a stream of “conversation cards” and an “activity drawer” highlighting the community around your content, as Google puts it.

What Do Users Think Of The Redesign?

Some reactions from Google+:

Dylan Casey says: “New Google+ looks great. Solves the mess at the top. BTW, where is ‘my’ Google Bar?”

Cesar Gemelli says, “Maybe this #newgoogleplus will increase my productivity…”

Ben Umpleby says, “Ahhh, pretty new facelift, #newgoogleplus. Let’s see if this becomes any more fun than before. I got kind of tired of the drab look of the previous version.”

Not everyone loves it, of course.

Holly Melton says, “Not loving that the #newgoogleplus pushes everything to the left side of my screen…”

Isriya Paireepairit writes, “Please consider my proposal with the #newgoogleplus space utilization problem. You will see the space is wasted badly. In the world of widescreen laptop with short height, vertical content display space is expensive. My screen is 1280×800 and you want to allow me using only ~27% of my screen?”

He shows the following image to demonstrate his point:

wasted google plus space

It’s interesting to see the reactions on Twitter, given that not all Twitters are Google+ users. I was surprised at how many positive things were being said, in proportion to the negative things I was coming across. We often talk about Facebook being a major rival to Google, but we’ve also talked about Twitter as a competitor in the past as well, and Twitter has just as much to lose as Facebook, in terms of where users are spending their time, so it’s worth noting that Google is impressing a number of Twitter users.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think this translates to people saying, “OK, forget Twitter, I’m only using Google+ now,” or “Finally, I can stop using Facebook. Google+ has better navigation.” I’m just saying, the more Google can do to impress users of rival services, the better chance they have of capturing more of those users’ time using the web, which really means they have more opportunities to get ads or other Google services in front of them.

The layout of Google+ always bothered me before to the extent it didn’t make me want to use it. I very much approve of the new design. 1 minute ago via Twitter for Mac ·  Reply ·  Retweet ·  Favorite · powered by @socialditto

Google+ is getting a redesign and the idea looks cool #gplus #GooglePlus 2 minutes ago via Twitter for Mac ·  Reply ·  Retweet ·  Favorite · powered by @socialditto

Say what you will about Google+, but its new look is the best of the bunch. 3 minutes ago via web ·  Reply ·  Retweet ·  Favorite · powered by @socialditto

Suddenly Google+ looks really cool 3 minutes ago via ·  Reply ·  Retweet ·  Favorite · powered by @socialditto

Google+ Rolls Out New Look lesson is really learned 4 minutes ago via Mobile Web ·  Reply ·  Retweet ·  Favorite · powered by @socialditto

In the last five minutes, Google+ just changed. Stuff I wrote yesterday about it is now outdated. Nice. 6 minutes ago via web ·  Reply ·  Retweet ·  Favorite · powered by @socialditto

Update: I’ve seen a lot more of the negative feedback trickling in since this piece was first written. A lot more people seem to be taking issue with Google’s use of space, and with the design having too much white space. It has even led to the Google+ trend #usesforwhitespace.

The “More Beautiful Google”

With the announcement, the theme of Google+ as a social layer to the larger Google is continued, with an emphasis on how the company is working to create a “simpler, more beautiful Google”.

This is in large part, at least on the PR end of things, what Google’s recent privacy policy change was all about. It simply allows Google to more easily share data from Google service to Google service, as it relates to the user. In other words, it can use what you’ve done on YouTube to make your Google+ experience better, or vice versa, for example. Likewise for search.

Gundotra says at the end of the announcement, “By focusing on you, the people you care about, and the stuff you’re into, we’re going to continue upgrading all the features you already know and love—from Search and Maps to Gmail and YouTube.” Emphasis added.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that Google is looking for further integrations, and they no doubt have plenty of ideas up their sleeve already, but it’s noteworthy that he mentions search in particular right there. Earlier this year, Google launched Search Plus Your World, a new personalized way of delivering search results to users. While not exclusively Google+-based, there was a heavy emphasis on Google+ activity and profiles in search results.

The glaring holes in the experience were the lack of Twitter and Facebook data, which both companies complained about in their own ways. It seemed Google was giving preferential treatment to Google+, while sacrificing relevancy of results in some cases. It does seem, however, that Google has eased up on that a bit. A recent algorithm change announced by the company indicates they’re getting better at delivering relevant profiles, and based on some of the examples I’ve come across, I can’t deny that this is the case. It does seem better than it was.

But how can Google+ be used in search more effectively? Clearly, Google is not done integrating it in there.

“With Google+, we’re building a seamless and consistent social layer across Google,” the Google spokesperson tells us. “A critical piece of this layer is a design that scales to our future needs. Today’s foundational changes let us move even faster — toward a simpler, more beautiful Google,” the spokesperson says. “We’re just getting started.”

Google+ User Activity

In Gundotra’s announcement, he says more than 170 million people have upgraded to Google+. Last month at SXSW, he indicated there are 100 million actives. Larry Page reaffirmed that number last week in a letter to investors. Does that mean that roughly 70 million are inactive with Google+ itself? We posed that question to Google, but no response on that one. I guess we’ll have to take that as a yes, unless 70 million people have become more active in the past week or so.

The good news, for Google, is that the actives outweigh the inactives, although Google’s description of what it considers an active user has been a topic of debate in itself. It’s someone who has used Google+ within 30 days of another Google service. That doesn’t mean people that are looking through their Google+ stream and engaging in conversations every day. It’s unclear whether the number includes people who have instant upload turned on, which simply uploads a photo to Google+ every time they take a picture with their phone.

I see a lot of people questioning how big Google+ really is, but I do know that a lot of the people who do use it, use it a lot. I have nearly 1,400 people in my Circles. That’s people that I follow. It’s not an enormous number, but it’s a lot of people, and I see a great deal of activity and conversation every time I look at my stream. Perhaps even more noteworthy – I see a lot of compelling content. A lot of great photos and videos. A lot of stuff worth sharing.

In the end, it doesn’t really matter if every user is using the actual Google+ stream or Google+ hangouts on a daily basis. As Google has presented it time and time again, it’s a social layer. Google doesn’t need you to use these specific features all the time. Google is using this to make everything it does more social, and more importantly (to Google, and potentially to advertisers), more personalized. According to Page, there are already over 120 integrations of Google+.

Google will hold its earnings call on Thursday, and the new Google+ will no doubt come up in the conversation. It will be interesting to see what Larry Page and Co. have to say about the further progression of Google.

Google is going to keep Google+ifying everything. We want to know if you think this is a good thing or a bad thing. Tell us in the comments.


Chris Crum
Chris Crum has been a part of the WebProNews team and the iEntry Network of B2B Publications since 2003. Follow Chris on Twitter, on StumbleUpon, on Pinterest and/or on Google: +Chris Crum.