While we’ve all been eagerly awaiting the arrival of the news feed overhaul announced by Facebook back in March (!), Google pipped Facebook to the post towards the end of May this year by going and revamping the appearance of its own platform.
What do we think?
The overhaul has received mixed reviews here at B3 Towers – some love, and some loathe. I personally think it’s a massive improvement, simply because it makes Google+ feel less like an online ghost town.
At first, my eyes were confused about where to look, until they quickly realised that they’re used to viewing information like this on Pinterest, which all the top and up and coming social media platforms and online magazines have been taking cues from since its launch.
There are more than 190 million active users on Google+, making it the world’s second-largest social network. At last, we’re now able to see a wide array of content all at once, which quickly gives us an idea of what’s being engaged with and what’s not, inciting users to get stuck in and explore.
I’m confident that this overhaul will only serve to liven things up on Google+ – the former single-stream presentation of content made the platform feel really static, while the new three-column stream should help users quickly find something that interests them.
The other change I’m a fan of is the movement of the left-hand navigation over to the top – exactly where my eyes would expect to find navigation.
While the appearance of the stream is perhaps the biggest talking point here, there are a few more interesting updates you should investigate:
Google+ will now automatically scan the copy of your posts and add relevant hashtags (which you can remove if you’d rather not have them).
There are three clever little updates to Google+ Photos on both desktop and the mobile app that will just help make Google+ a place where users can create, browse and engage with high-quality picture content:
– Auto Highlight
This new feature employs complex algorithms to highlight (feature/make bigger) the very best photos in your archive. Not only this, but Auto Highlight also rids your archive of duplicates and any photos that are a little blurry, feature red-eyed subjects, or any other undesirable aesthetic qualities, for that matter. (Oh, and thankfully, Google’s not presumptuous enough to rid you of what it deems to be duds completely – the originals are also preserved.)
The platform’s algorithm is now also able to scan pictures you post (e.g. Big Ben) and sort them accordingly – a pretty neat trick.
Take the photos of Big Ben in the screen shot below – there’s not a hashtag or ‘Big Ben’ description in sight:
– Auto Enhance
Auto Enhance then takes those images Auto-Highlighted and applies automatic corrections to them, including improvements to brightness, contrast, focus, noise and saturation, to name but a few. Check the pic below out – on the left, the unenhanced, on the right, the enhanced.
I’m not sure I like this to be honest – yes, it enhances photos, but… Basically photoshopping people’s faces? Our faces? Of course, you can opt to revert back to the original, but I’d prefer to opt in rather than opt out, personally.
Here’s a screen shot of the new Google+ Photos on desktop we’ve used a photo we took with the app while poor ol’ Andy Curry, our Senior Digital Designer, was off guard – notice the dialogue box at the top announcing the auto-enhancements:
– Auto Awesome
This is just a bit of folly, but pretty cool folly nonetheless. GIFs are cool, right? Google+ now automatically creates a GIF if it detects photo sequences!
Google+ Photos mobile app
The automatic enhancements are opt-in here (nice of Google), and we have to say that the filter options are actually some of the best we’ve seen on photo apps, including even Instagram. Behold, once again, Andy Curry’s startled face:
There’s an app for that…
The Hangouts feature is by far and away one of the best – and most unique – features Google+ platform offers. Not only is it great for friends and family who want to get together en masse (well, a masse of you and up to nine participants), it’s also great for businesses who have some expertise they have to offer, or that simply have cool new stuff to show off in an exclusive preview on Google+… Or that want to interact with their audience in whatever way they think would work.
Hangouts is definitely a reason to give Google+ a go – for example, here at Branded3, we run a monthly Google+ Hangout, the #B3Brunch, on topics around SEO, social media, content marketing, design and development – our core specialisms.
We figure out what people need help with or would like to discuss and base our Hangout themes around those areas… We’ve found that it really does work to connect with our audience – and that it gives them a good reason to follow us on Google+.
We’ve had some fantastic participation from marketers and business owners of all levels, and it’s really working to differentiate our Google+ Page from any of our other social channels and build a unique community there.
Anyway, enough of the Hangouts love-in, now time to actually go into the Hangouts app.
You can now download and install a Hangouts app to your iPhone or Android device, or to Google Chrome, which makes it easy to host or participate in a Hangout anywhere, any time.
While this next feature isn’t yet supported by the aforementioned Hangouts app, you can still access it the usual way through Google+ on your desktop browser. If you want to find Hangouts that are relevant to you, but they’re happening, say, next week, then you can and add them to your Google Calendar as and when you come across them via the schedule tab.
If you’re hosting a Hangout and choose to use Hangouts on Air (which, handily, get automatically saved to your YouTube channel – just make sure your YouTube account is verified first!), be sure to create an event for your Hangout so that it appears in the list of upcoming Hangouts showcased on Google+.
So – what do you think to the new UI and features? Will Google’s new automatic photo enhancement and sorting features save you oodles of valuable time, or do you just think it’s a bit creepy and intrusive? Will these features entice you to use Google+ more, or are you using it regularly already?
Leave us a comment…