Google today announced a number of new features for Google+, including navigation and design changes. The result: a more “functional and flexible version of Google+,” according to Google’s blog post. More than 170 million people now have Google+ accounts, but what do people think of the update?
First things first... Back in January, Google made Google+ account creation mandatory when users signed up for other Google services. So the 170 million user figure likely includes those who have signed up for Gmail or YouTube, received their Google+ account, and never returned. On January 19th, Larry Page put the Google user headcount at 90 million.
In the past 3 months, an additional 80 million people have signed up for some type of Google service and been assigned a Google+ account as a result. We still patiently wait for actual engagement statistics, though we’re not holding our breath.
The mandatory account creation move had followed hot on the heels of Google’s Search Plus Your World launch and the integration of Google+ brand pages in primary organic search results. More recently, they rolled all of their services into one with the amalgamation of all privacy policies for all Google services.
All of these things are designed to move Google closer to their vision, according to VP Bradley Horowitz, of “changing this mode of interaction so that we actually get to know our users deeply.”
CEO Larry Page hinted at the upcoming redesign in his 2012 Update from the CEO, released last week. “Creating a simpler, more intuitive experience across Google has been another important focus. I have always believed that technology should do the hard work—discovery, organization, communication—so users can do what makes them happiest: living and loving, not messing with annoying computers!” he wrote.
One small line in the CEO address hints at the revelation of actual engaged user numbers; Page wrote, “Well over 100 million users are active on Google+...” If he was, indeed, referring to active users, far more than half of all users with Google+ accounts are actually using them. Still, it would be helpful for Google to release an actual active user figure, with some definition of what “active” really means.
The Simpler, More Beautiful Google+
Of their redesign, Google says, “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.” So what’s new?
Gone are the static navigation icons at the top, replaced by a dynamic ribbon of apps on the left of the screen. Users can reorder the apps, or hover over them to bring up options. Photos and videos are larger and full bleed. “We're aiming for an experience that fuses utility with beauty—one that inspires you to connect with others, and cherish the conversations that unfold,” said Google.
There’s a separate stream of “conversation cards,” which Google claims will make it easier to join discussions. An “activity drawer” drops down below posts to show +1s and reshares.
“You know that feeling you get when a piece of art takes your breath away, or when a friend stops by with unexpected gifts?” asks the written announcement. “We want sharing to feel like that, every single time.”
Hangouts have a new home, with a dynamic invitation list, quick access to every public and On Air hangout and a “rotating billboard” of popular hangouts and tips. Of these features, Google announced, “Google+ Hangouts uses live video to bring people together, and the results range from heartwarming to breathtaking to music-making.”
Other new features include an Explore page showcasing activity around trending topics, a redesigned profile page, and an updated chat list. As the video above shows, it appears Google has taken a page right out of Facebook’s book with one new feature – a new “Timeline”-inspired cover photo for profiles.
The new UI is being rolled out over the next few days to all users, so some may not be able to see the new features and design quite yet.
What Do Users Think of the Changes?
Google’s announcement reads a bit like the long direct response sales letters I used to write for affiliates hocking everything from get-rich-quick programs to all-natural diet products. Everything is so very beautiful and breathtaking; you are to feel positively inspired by this evocative new design. This is a place to cherish your connections.
So what do users think? Well, some have taken to the Twittersphere:
What do you think? Is the new Google+ UI going to appeal to more users and help them draw some share from Facebook... and does it even matter? Let us know in the comments!