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.