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Google+ gets the pivot of the year

Mike Elgan | Nov. 24, 2015
Google transforms its everything-for-everyone social network into a site that does one thing really well -- connecting supernerds.

Google+ Redesign 
A look at the Google+ redesign on iOS, a Web browser and Android. Credit: Google

Google's forced integration of everything with Google+ failed. So in the past year, the company has been "dis-integrating" Google+. The requirement to have a Google+ account for other Google services has been relaxed. Photos and Hangouts have been spun out as separate products. The Real Names policy has been canceled.

Last week, the new vision for Google+ was revealed.

Understanding the new Google+

Google is  slowly rolling out a completely revamped Google+ for both desktop browsers and mobile apps.

For starters, the new version of Google+ is much faster. Google completely replaced the underlying code, embracing a "responsive design" approach that enables one implementation across all platforms.

In the past, a Google+ stream would load everything at once, so there was a gigantic lag. Now, Google claims not only that pages are a tiny fraction of the size they were before, but also that they never download more than 60K of HTML, 60K of JavaScript and 60K of CSS at once. The most noticeable effect is that animated GIFs first appear as still photos, then come to life only later.

In addition to the improvement in page performance, the Google+ user interface has been improved and made more discoverable, consistent and rational across platforms.

The other big change is a renewed emphasis on Communities and Collections over streams.

On the old Google+, everything was a search result. For example, viewing your "Family" circle was just a search result saying: "Show me all posts by people on this list in reverse chronological order." Actual searches (as in using the search box) were indistinguishable in concept from any other view. Everything you did in Google+ was a stream resulting from either a manual or an automated search.

Later, Google added Communities and Collections. Communities are like Reddit. A user creates a place to talk about a specific -- often very specific -- topic. Anyone who joins that community can post on that topic, and each Community can have multiple moderators.

Collections are like Pinterest: Each user says "Here are the categories of interests I have," and followers can follow any or all of them as you would boards on Pinterest.

Four aspects of Google+ have been successful. First, its cloud-based photo management and editing tools were a big hit. Google spun those out as Google Photos, which is now social-network-agnostic and very popular.

Second, Google's video Hangouts were great. The company spun out the Hangouts product as a separate offering and now even enables people to use Hangouts without a Google password. Hangouts is less successful as a messaging platform overall, but its multi-user video chat feature is still the best experience available.

 

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