Google’s annual developers conference, Google I/O, kicked off with a number of interesting announcements. As numerous users cheered for or railed against the new iteration of Google’s social platform, the details of the 41 changes to Google+ were announced at the conference.
Here is a breakdown of the high points.
Hangouts are arguably the most groundbreaking element of Google+. The built-in videoconference/broadcast functionality is, in my opinion, the platform’s greatest strength. It would seem that Google thinks so as well, they have just broken Hangouts off into its own dedicated smartphone app.
The new app combines text, photos, and live video across Android, iOS, and your laptop/desktop. New features include the following:
- More responsive messaging. Photos, emoji, and real-time activity indicators breathe new life into notifications.
- Conversation history. This allows you to review your prior interactions (you can also turn this feature off).
- Notifications no long replicate across all your devices. Once you see a notification on one device, it is cleared from the others, removing one of G+’s biggest annoyances. You can also set them to snooze so you can get some work done.
- Conversations can go face-to-face. Conversations based on the integrated messaging can easily be launched as full-fledged video Hangouts.
- The app is already ubiquitous. It can be downloaded from Google Play, the App Store, and the Chrome Web Store. It’s also integrated directly into both Gmail and Google+.
Hashtags, Photo Tools, and More
The main Google+ interface has gotten a facelift — and some people dislike it intensely while others love it. Unfortunately for me, I’m in the former group. I think it is too much like Facebook, a platform I dislike intensely.
Lets take look at some of the most visible components of the upgrade:
- New multi-column layout. This is the part that reminds of Facebook’s terminally confusing feed. Thanksfully for those who prefere single-column presentation, it can be toggled off.
- Photos and videos become huge. Google continues its trend of wanting bigger and bigger photos. It might end up being useful, but I see a lot of confusion being generated among the casual users in my stream by it.
- Lots of animations. Seriously, Google, not everything has to move.
- Hashtags. Related hashtags are now automatically displayed in the upper left corner of each post. Can you say, “rabbit hole”?
For the Shutterbugs
Google+ has catered more and more toward photographers with each update, and I am happy to say that includes this one. Here are some new features:
- Auto highlight. This will be amazingly useful to people like me, who snap a number of iterations of each photo. Auto highlight picks out and deemphasizes the duplicate and blurry pics, allowing you to zero in on the best in each series of pictures you take.
- Auto Awesome. You can stitch together shots in a series to make a playful Photobooth-esque picture or even a Vine-like animated gif. Auto Awesome creates a brand new image based on a set of photos selected from your library. If you upload a sequence of photos, it will try to animate them automatically. Another use suggested by Google is, “If you send us a few family portraits, we’ll find everyone’s best smile, and stitch them together into a single shot.” The name is a bit narcissistic but the results do seem pretty impressive.
- Auto backup (instant upload). If you set up the permissions, Google+ will automatically back up your mobile pics as you snap them. Everyone receives unlimited free storage at standard size (2048px), and 15GB of free storage at full size (up from 5GB).
- Auto enhance. A new tool for improving “brightness, contrast, saturation, structure, noise, focus […] and dozens of other factors” automatically. Look for it in the lightbox next time you upload photos.
All in all, there has been a massive reboot across the Google properties, aimed at making them a more cohesive whole. As a result, the look and feel is now standardized. As things move forward, it will be interesting to see what sort of background changes go along with them, and how those will impact SEO and social signals.