I have to be honest. I haven’t been the biggest fan Google+. I’ve been Circled over 11k times , but I don’t see much activity from users beyond sharing the same things they share on Twitter and Facebook. Most of the people I’ve circled seem to be more active elsewhere. Though Google+ original design was well received, I found the layout too cluttered with text. Overall, Google+ reminded me of a message board stuck with an old school design while flaunting new school features.
So, I’m more than excited about the new redesign for Google+ because it finally feels like it Google+ knows what it wants to be.
A Stand Out Redesign
I was more than a little surprised to find myself enjoying the redesign of Google+. Google+ now sports a more subdued, but modern visual layout, marred only by too much whitespace. Within seconds of seeing it, I posted my initial thoughts that, “It certainly feels more like Facebook and Twitter with a Google interface wrapped around it.”
Broken down into three columns, the new layout features a major refresh to the navigation bar. Google+ trades its mostly text-based navigation for a column of customizable icons. You can easily drag and drop icons to reorder them or hide them under the “more” tab. This is a great customization option, but it’s also limited. It would’ve been nice to be able to “pin” a Circle, person, or saved search to the navigation bar for quick access.
A New Home For Circles & Searches
Under the new Home icon you’ll find your Google+ activity streams a la Facebook newsfeed. This is hub of your Circles and saved searches. Displayed to the right of the activity streams are five trending topics with icons indicating whether the trend is declining or rising in popularity.
At the bottom of a conversation card (shared post) Google+ displays a quick overview of the activity count. In a glance, you’ll know how many times a post has been commented on or +1’d. Clicking this area will take you to the “activity drawer” that reveals who did what.
Google Hangouts Gets A Dedicated Page
Google Hangouts gets a dedicated page of its own in the new Google+ redesign. Could Hangouts become the new Ustream? The new Hangouts page is reminiscent of Ustream, with an emphasis on community hangouts rather than celebrities, for now. If Google keeps it that way, Hangouts could see a lot of love from mainstream users, and subsequently become a hotspot for celebrities.
(Image Credit: Google)
Though more features are coming to Hangouts, there’s plenty of room for improvement. Joining a Hangout is feels a lot like playing Russian Roulette. You don’t know what to expect because Hangouts lack any context beyond avatars of the people in the discussion.
Why isn’t there a description option for Hangouts? Currently, there’s no way of knowing what the topic of discussion is before “hanging out”. A cool way for Google to add more context to Hangouts would be to implement a feature that allows you to “peek” into a Hangout for 15 seconds. Users can then make a more informed decision about joining a hangout or moving along. For now, I stay out of hangouts because I don’t know what’s going on in them.
Profiles & Chat
Profiles now have bigger pictures on display a la Facebook Timeline. If that’s not your style, you have the option of displaying smaller individual pictures instead. Google takes a very obvious page from Facebook’s Timeline by enlarging profile pictures and displaying quick facts about users beneath them.
And finally, Google has put Google Chat somewhere more useful (read: out of the way) as the third column in Google+. Personally, I don’t think Google Chat should even be in Google+ for many reasons, the biggest being that Google+ cancels Google Chat out in most cases. Thankfully, I can disable Google Chat in Google+.
Google+ Takes Shape
Google+ feels snappier than ever. Photos and videos appear bold and beautiful in activity streams and they’re prominence turns up the vibrance of Google+. There’s still plenty of room for improvement, especially with all the whitespace hanging out (pun intended). There’s hope that the whitespace left in Google+ hints at much bigger things to come. In the meantime, you can make better use of all that whitespace with this Stylebot style.
Google+ is mostly playing catch up to Twitter and Facebook with features like trends and adding greater visibility to photos and videos in activity streams. Beyond playing catch-up, Google+ finally feels like it’s trying on a new skin and coming into its own.