Google+ is one of those social networks that keeps surprising me: although lots of people are still not ready to make the move from Facebook, or at least try it out, I see amazing results. Google+ has actually become a great source of engagement and one of my top social media traffic sources (for months now!). Although Google+ has only about 190 million people that are active in the stream (which is considerably lower than it’s main competitor, Facebook, but still quite a lot!) the guys at Google are working hard to make the website better, more intuitive and more visual in order to attract more users.
Google’s 2013 keynote came with lots of news and announcements of new features for Google+ and some of them are looking pretty exciting. That said, after playing around with it for a few hours, I can’t say that I’m happy with all the changes. In some places Google+ feels a bit counter-intuitive and crowded.
Here are some of the biggest changes and announcements and what I think of them:
The Google+ stream
Let’s start with the good things! Overall, the stream looks pretty good. It’s one of the biggest changes that they’ve made to Google+, as the news stream is now filled with 2-3 columns of cards (depending on how large your screen is). It looks very similar to Pinterest, and I think it’s a nice change. I also like the fact that they’ve made a pop-up menu, so it doesn’t take any extra space. That said however, while the pop-up menu is using as little space as it can, the top space (with the search bar etc.) is taking too much space. On a regular laptop you can’t see more than 1 card on each column at a time, which can be quite annoying:
It would’ve been nicer to also have bigger cards that would take more screen space instead of all the grey, unused space. That said, I do prefer the new stream to the old one, as it looks cleaner and I love all the sliding and popping.
The new hashtags feature while interesting and exciting, can also be pretty frightening. Hashtags are now bigger than ever on Google+, as the social network will now be able to scan through all updates and photos you upload and then add relevant hashtags. This can be a little scary as it can raise some privacy issues, but fortunately for people who want their profile to be private, you can switch the feature off. I have to say I like this feature, and I think that if their algorithm is good and they get most hashtags right, it could turn Google+ in a veritable social news discovery site.
Google are finally unifying their chat options under one umbrella, and they’ve decided Google+’s Hangouts should be the umbrella rather than Google Talk. The great news is (and it’s been a long time coming!) Google have finally launched a stand-alone Google+ Hangouts app for smartphones and tablets for those of us (all of us probably!) who want to finish their conversation even when they’ve left the computer. We’ll have to wait and see if it will be nearly as successful as Facebook’s Messenger app.
Now this is where the biggest changes are happening! One of my favorites is Auto-Backup (basically it is Google+’s Instant Upload), which is a great backup option for the pictures you take on your phone. When enabled, Auto-backup will save all of the pictures you take on your phone to your Google+ account, but set to private so only you can see them.
Highlights is another new feature that takes all of your best photos from a particular album and basically highlights them, while “hiding” the bad ones: the blurry ones, the duplicates etc.
Auto-Awesome is probably the coolest of all the new additions. The most fun Auto-Awesome feature is the GIF-maker, that basically takes a series of photos of yours and creates a GIF (very similar to a Vine actually). It can also create panoramic images from connecting several photos (a feature that requires a lot of effort, but will probably get a lot better with time).
Another great feature for all of us amateur photographers is Auto-Enhance, that tries to automatically make changes to your images to make them better: red eye, sharpening, contrast etc.
All of these features sound great, however some of the people who have tried them out several times are reporting that they aren’t really working that well, and some of them don’t even work at all. However we all have to start somewhere, even Google, and I’m sure that they will slowly be improving these features (or take them all out at next years’ Google keynote).
As much as I like my Profile page (it’s the same as the stream), there is one big problem (and I mean big literally!): the cover image is simply too large! To give you an idea of how big it is, this screenshot doesn’t even cover the entire image:
Another change that I’m not exactly happy about regards Community pages. Instead of making them more minimalistic and easier to use, Communities seem more crowded now and at first sight don’t seem very intuitive, even though they are similar with the stream:
The cards are too small and they hardly seem to stand out whenever I browse through my communities.
I do however like the “local” tab which will include friends’ reviews of local attractions, restaurants, pubs etc. Nothing new under the sun, but still a nice feature.
Betting against Facebook?
Although Google+ can’t help but be very similar to Facebook they seem to be trying their hardest to differentiate themselves and take a different approach to social networking. For example, while Facebook is trying to create a personalized digital newspaper that you can scroll down through forever with the new news feed, Google+ seems to be taking a different approach. With the new hashtags feature and the new stream cards that you can click on to see related stories, it seems like the smaller social network is turning into a social discovery website where people can delve deeper into their interests. It will be very interesting to see if these changes and new features will help Google+ raise their user base and maybe even slow down Facebook at some point.
So now that this keynote is over, the big question is, what’s coming next year? What do you think of Google+’s new features and changes? Have you tried them out yet?
Short URL: Invalid/unregistered user name provided Tweet: