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Google+ Gets a Facelift

Published on April 13, 2012
Tags: Usability, Web Design London

Google’s contribution to the world of social networking sites, Google+, has gone through something of a facelift. We’ve seen before how this social networking site got off to something of a shaky start, with complaints from some users including the fact that the site required them to sign up using their own names rather than an internet pseudonym. The site is also still trailing the social media giants in terms of the number of users it has, but has this latest development done enough to allow Google+ to play with the big(ger) hitters?

There are certainly some interesting features as part of the redesigned site. In a blog post, Google announced that more than 170 million people have upgraded to Google+ in the past ten months since the site was first launched. They also say that over the past 30 days, 100 million people have ‘engaged’ with it. 50 million apparently ‘engaged’ every day. When we compare this with Facebook, which at the end of 2011 had around 250 million users who used the service every day, there is clearly some way for Google+ to go – but it still seems to be growing steadily.

The redesigned site offers more options for things like videos and photographs – you can include full sized photographs now. Google says it has also made it easier for people to join in discussions and see what’s going on in the different Google+ communities. There are also interesting new navigation tools, one of which Google calls a ‘dynamic ribbon of applications’. The idea behind this is to allow users to do things such as drag apps up or down, hide or show apps, and hover over them to display information. This is a contrast to the static icons that used to be at the top of the page.

The Google+ ‘Hangout’ option has now been updated, too. The idea behind this is to give people more chances to connect, such as by making it easier for people to access hangouts, offering tips and a ‘rotating billboard of popular hangouts’.

Google admits in the above mentioned blog post that it still has some way to go, but it sees this redesign of Google+ as an important step. So, will it make much of a difference? It’s perhaps a bit too soon to tell, but we can safely see that the social networking site has been growing well lately. One of the reasons for this is that since the start of 2012, when users have signed up for another Google service, they have also been required to set up a Google+ account. One estimate from Search Engine Watch says that this has added 80 million people in the past three months.

However, when compared with other social networking sites, Google+ is still falling behind in terms of both user numbers and how long people spend on the website. ComScore did a survey that found people spent 18% of their time online on Facebook during January. They spent a total of just 3 minutes on Google+. Other social networking sites also did considerably better than Google’s offering.

Plus, we can arguably see aspects of other social networking sites in the Google+ redesign. For instance, Twitter’s web developers are likely to have taken keen notice of the inclusion of a trending topics feature on the Google site, something that Twitter has been using itself for the past couple of years. There’s also a new cover photo feature on Google+ that is somewhat similar to the cover photo feature on Facebook that was rolled out recently as part of its ‘timeline’ redesign. Twitter in particular has previously expressed concern at actions taken by Google, such as the search giant’s move at the start of this year to integrate Google+ into its search results.

Another concern from some users is that, unlike Facebook and Twitter that users are able to update through apps and other means, Google+ requires people to log in before they can take any action – something that some people say inflates the user numbers.

So it seems that the debate over Google+ rumbles on. Is it good or isn’t it? It seems that people have very set, divided opinions over the issue, but Google is determined that Google+ will be a success. They say that one of the aims of the site update is to make ‘sharing more awesome’. Time will tell if that turns out to be the case.

By Chelsey Evans

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