Nearly two years ago, Google introduced the Google+ project in what represented a major initiative to take on Facebook in the social realm – a social initiative that’s had mixed results to this point.
Google’s social network has grown considerably since Summer 2011, yet skeptics abound, describing G+ as a ghost town where people aren’t truly active like they are on Facebook or Twitter. But a new G+ redesign could silence the skeptics, if some 41 new features that emphasize context and content discovery generate user engagement as Mountain View hopes.
New G+ features fall into three main categories that we’ll explore individually: Stream, Hangouts and Photos.
Developing a Deeper Stream
We love using our smartphones, tablets, PCs and televisions in tandem, and it’s not just techie people. Some 90 percent of people move across devices to accomplish a goal, with smartphones by far the most common starting point for sequential activity, according to Google research.
Even when we’re watching television in the evenings, many of us use our smartphones as a second screen (although it’s often been Twitter that we use to communicate in real time about the Super Bowl or a political debate).
Recognizing our love for second screens, Google has rolled out a new user experience for G+ that’s designed to be appreciated across mobile and desktop. There’s a multi-column layout where you see one, two or three columns of content depending on your screen size, orientation and the device you’re using. Multiple columns could make content more engaging on both company and individual pages because you’re not scrolling down just a never-ending single column. Another new feature involves enlarged photos and videos that can fill the entire width of a stream – a feature that’s supposed to make our streams more attractive and easier to scan.
Another noteworthy feature is the automatic addition of hashtags, designed to make it easier to explore your personal interests. For example, G+ added an “Indianapolis” hashtag to a post about Indianapolis as an emerging technology hotbed; click on the “Indianapolis” hashtag, and it loads more posts about Indy that you can flip through by clicking an arrow. You can delete an automatic hashtag by with a single click if you don’t want it on your post.
Let’s hang, man
A new standalone version of Hangouts that combines text, photos and live video across devices represents another facet of the redesign. Improved features involve richer messaging, a conversation history that allows you to relive past moments, and better notification options. Hangouts is part of Gmail (click the “Start Hangout” icon and Install the plugin) and can be downloaded from Google Play, the App Store and the Chrome Web Store.
Data Center Darkroom
Other new G+ features involve beautifying our photos, including Auto Backup, Auto Highlight, Auto Enhance and the so-called “Auto Awesome.”
Auto Backup automatically backs up your photos as you taken them. Everyone gets unlimited free at standard photo size (2048px) and 15GB of free storage at full size. The Auto Highlight feature helps you select your favorite photos by emphasizing your family and friends, landmarks and other “positive attributes,” rather than duplicated, blurry or poor exposure shots. Auto Enhance helps you improve brightness, contrast, focus and other factors automatically. And the “Auto Awesome” feature can develop a new image from a set of photos like portraits or panoramas.
Don’t Mess with the Might of the Mountain?
Some 190 million people are now active on G+, but the social initiative has “only just begun,” according to Google’s post announcing the redesign. The growing social network represents Google’s fourth attempt at developing a dominant social presence over the past decade, and Mountain View has put a ton of resources into improving G+ (and integrating it with other products like Gmail).
So the question remains: Is G+ poised to dominate the Social Media Landscape and overtake Facebook as the social kingpin? The jury is still out, but this new redesign probably gives Google a better shot.