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Now a relic: The old Google+ toolbar.

Co.Design

The New Google+ Is More Beautiful Than Facebook (But It Doesn’t Matter)

This upcoming redesign of Google+ shows that Google knows its strengths, and it’s backing them with design.

Google+ has failed to take off. And it’s not even necessarily a fault of the product: Facebook is the de facto social network of our time. If there’s a second in command, it’s the more quick and casual Twitter. There are only so many social networks that we can all be social on every day.

But that’s not stopping Google from announcing a major redesign of Google+ today. It’s better in almost every way, focused on real-time trends, customization, and playing to Google’s few advantages they have in the space. But, you know, it’s just a little too late for design alone to save the day.

The biggest change, aside from the upsized pictures and videos, is the new Navigation Ribbon. Whereas the old Google+ tucked away your homepage or profile links near the top search bar (which is just so Google, right?), the Navigation Ribbon makes these buttons big and touch-friendly, filling up the former huge void of white space on the left side of the page.

Furthermore, this Navigation Ribbon is a step toward a platform filled with deeper customization options. As of now, you can pretty much just rearrange its buttons as you see fit, hiding what you don’t want to see and hovering over each for more information. But into the future, it has the potential to become every bit as robust as OS X’s dock. It could be the core of an app-driven Google+ OS.

Google’s other series of changes leverage the company’s technical prowess. There’s a new bar that shows your friends who are online all the time. (It’s shamelessly identical to Facebook’s.) But there is more to this design scheme than blatant copying: Google is now pushing immediate communication (what Google+ actually does best). This “who’s around” bar is just part of Google’s renewed push to their Hangouts—their remarkable, real-time video chats that support a whole host of friends talking together. If Google+ has a killer app, it’s always been Hangouts.

Hangouts now has its own page that allows you to see, not just your friends who are talking, but jump in “popular” conversations with anyone from around the world (and surely some celebrities that Google plants from time to time). This is a shift in strategy for Hangouts, sure, but it’s actually an expansion scope for Google+ and social networking altogether. Through design alone, Google is pushing users to, not just “friend” an acquaintance, but to actually meet up face-to-face with someone they might not know.

A lot of what Google announced today was pure catch-up. It snagged a new “Trending on Google+” function from Twitter. It now features a profile page with a top, landscape portrait that’s nearly identical to Facebook’s Timeline. But if Google is going to copy, at least they’re copying some good ideas. And at least they haven’t given up on the vast potential of the one ace up their sleeve: Hangouts.

It’s just, well…my grandma’s birthday is already on Facebook.

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25 Comments

  • Rita Dawson

    I also liked the new Google+ but I feel it can't match for Facebook. After redesigning Google+ seems to have gained a bit popularity. What do you say? Among all the features, the Navigation ribbon is something that I liked a lot. Anyways, Thanks for the informative share.

  • Khrysso Heart LeFey

    The problem is that I don't care what's trending. All the trending stuff gets in my way.

    I'm text-centered when I'm online. All the graphics get in my way.

    Friends assured me that I would like Google+ better than Facebook. I do, in theory, but all my relatives are on FB and none of them are on Google+.

    So I go back to Tribe.net, which is a virtual ghost town, but at least I have a lot of history--unencumbered by trends and graphics--there.

  • Steve Nesich

    You raise some valid points, Mark, but I'm not so sure I agree with most of them. It's far too early to draw conclusions about where Google+ is headed. One of the reasons I think it will ultimately succeed is because...well, it's Google. Very deep pockets; continuing lucrative revenue base 24/7 everywhere; applications for everything; connections to everything. 

    Plus, Facebook is taking some gambles that could---maybe within the next year---cause some serious slippage in the brand. (How many people do you know who are excited about the new FB Timeline? How many do you know who are barely tolerant of it?)

    Rahul K. Soni, below, is correct: People ARE used to the Facebook interface and are thus reluctant to leave. However, it just doesn't feel like Facebook anymore to a lot of us. That new design element radically shifts the user experience. 

    If you look at one single year---2008---there seemed to be a sea change in the respective positions of Facebook and My Space. If you look at where each company stood in December 2007, as opposed to January 2009, you'll see something that's close to astonishing. 

    When the tipping point occurs, things change quickly. If---or when, some might argue---the exodus from Facebook begins, where are people going to go? I don't know if anyone is better positioned than Google+ to have a system "ready to go" when the mass migration occurs. 

  • kpr

    I've got to agree with Felipe here. While it's certainly true that Google has deep pockets, it's not true that their surplus of cash leads them to create successful products. Roughly 97% of Google's revenue still comes from advertising. People are not aligning their online behavior with Google in the same way they are with Facebook. And that makes things difficult for Google to succeed. 

    As far as change goes, in my opinion, Facebook has succeeded because MySpace couldn't evolve fast enough. While it's true that people whine about the changes Facebook has made, like Felipe said, they rarely actually take action. It's important to always remember that what people say is almost always slightly different than what they actually do. 

    I don't see much success in Google+'s future. As long as Facebook maintains its ethos and keeps its finger on the pulse of what their users are doing and looking for, it will maintain its grasp in the social space. 

  • Filipe Dias

    In my opinion the Timeline is great. Much better than the weirdly organized wall. Now it's a lot easier to understand when things occured, not just the order of them.
    Again, Facebook and G+ are not the same kind of structures, they serve diferent social purposes. FB is for friends and family, G+ is for interests and discussions. If G+ ever starts becoming a place for people to say how nice their dinner was or show pictures of their babies, then it would become Facebook. But I don't think that will happen, as they are not direct competitors and are designed for diferent purposes.

    Oh, money doens't mean success. This is not Google's first social site. Orkut didn't take off except in Brazil, Wave was discontinued, etc.

    Lastly, people love and hate change at the same time. They may whine about change, but they either leave or 2 weeks after are more than used to the changes, and as things change again the same cycle begins. One thing is certain here, not to change is to kill your product.

  • Timmy Selle

    I think, FACEBOOK is not a social network but GOOGLE+ comes this very close because the integration und the improving of face to face communication per web.

  • ArkansasMark

    Mark,
    Do you have a Twitter account or other account we can fan or follow? I don't see a link on this page or your FastCo profile page that will allow anyone to connect with you and follow your writing/articles. Please advise.Mark Wilsonabout.me/mark-wilsonPS Cool name!

  • Rahul K Soni

    Well google has definitely done the better job by changing the page interface, and much more useful asper last version. But people are used to facebook interface so much that they don't like to leave. http://www.ithinkinfotech.com

  • Filipe Dias

    By that sense people would still be in Myspace, Hi5 and previous ones. They will leave when people start to leave. Is it to G+? No one has any idea. One thing I can assure is that they will leave to something else in the future.

  • JamesFaction

    Facebook has sucked more and more with each update. But they've still got some essential things that simply compel me to continue to use it (apart from the obvious that everyone uses it):

    - Events. I can't believe Google has left this out of the equation. It so easy to promote a gig, a party, an exhibition opening, anything that is an event at a given time. Google+ don't got that.
    - Groups. No I'm not talking about arranging your friends into categories, I'm talking about groups with members where you can all post to the group's wall and comment on the posts. For example, I'm on a roster of DJs for a monthly club night. Decisions about who will play and when the gigs are and so on are made on this private group on facebook - it's very handy for us.
    - Pages - promote your band/company/group, get fans! Google has implemented something for this, I think? But hey I hardly use Google so I wouldn't know :P

    There are other little things that Google inexplicably isn't doing. If I get an email notification that someone has posted on my wall, or commented on a post of mine, or even replied to a comment that I commented, I get an email. I can reply to the email and my reply gets posted as a comment. Google+? Notifications emailed to me say "do not reply to this email". Sigh.

  • Guest

    Now that Google has shown definitively that it values my privacy about as much as Zuckerberg, I have no incentive to use Google+

  • rociogarza

    Google must have read FastCo's article from last month (
    http://www.fastcodesign.com/16....  I'm not knocking their "borrowed" design features - I've been on FB since 2004, but all the changes over the years have turned me off it for the most part.  Using it now is just a "necessary evil" for connecting with more addicted friends ;)

  • CurtisMSP

    A design mag saying design doesn't matter is a bit odd.  Remember, MySpace was on top until the better-designed Facebook opened up.  MySpace crumbled in large part because of its crappy design.  There is a lesson there for both Google and Facebook.  The one who can maintain a focus on design has the best chance of long-term survival.  Steve Jobs knew that as well.

    Plus, don't fool yourself into thinking G+ is irrelevant.  Google is positioning G+ to be the social glue that holds all Google services together.  You may think you don't use G+.  But do you use Google Search? Google Mail? Google Maps? Google Docs? YouTube?  All Google services have become glued together.  If you answer 'yes' to any of those, then you use G+.

  • Filipe Dias

    Good perspective on the integration of services. I had not thought about it in that view.

  • ptamzz

    An article on the new G+ redesign which doesn't mention anything about the #whitespace? Something doesn't sound right!

    Well we all know who copied what if we talk a little about history!

  • Filipe Dias

    What do you mean by social?
    Facebook and G+ do not share the same focus, they work in different ways. Facebook focus on sharing what a friend did or is doing, while g+ is more on sharing ideas and other concepts with friends and non friends.
    As a user of both, they complement one another instead of going "There can be only one" style.
    I definitely wouldn't want all of my facebook friends to be in G+, the same way one has the bar buddies, conversation buddies and so on, they address different social purposes, and one social network can't be everything at the same time, ever.

  • Filipe Dias

    Oh, and who's copying who doesn' mean anything at all.
    Clearly FB didn't come up with the concept of showing friends online, and before that MSN Messenger, ICQ, mIRC, etc. So why not use something that's useful, should the wheel be reinvented continuously?
    I'm not defending G+ here, I'm just criticizing the statements in the article.

  • Jetpackjello

    Why are they celebrating Holi (the traditional Hindu festival of colors in India) in Utah?

  • James Briano

    Why don't you Google it?
    Just kidding. They claim to have the largest celebration of Holi in the western hemisphere. Over 40k people participated in 2011.