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I am a fan of several Google products, so I was delighted when I got an invite to use the Beta version of Google+ in early July last year. I signed up straightaway and started posting, circling and +1-ing.  My first impression back then was that it was much cleaner than Facebook: I loved that there were no adverts and irrelevant notification. My Google+ account gradually replaced another social networking site that I had been using, FriendFeed (owned by Facebook), for my geeky posts, science-related posts and interactions beyond my own network of friends.

So it was with surprise and delight that I found out G+ was rolling out a new user interface yesterday. There had been no warning that this was going to happen and it appeared that the upgrade was not going to be optional. I watched the teaser video with interest wondering when my profile would be updated. I didn’t have to wait long; just after 6pm last night my new  G+ profile was unveiled. The rest of this blog post describes my impression of the new UI.

I have to admit I’m a bit disappointed. As I mentioned above, I liked the original minimalist design of G+, with the stream as the focal point of the page and few links/icons around it. Now, my stream has been squashed into the left of the page and is much narrower, and the photos above my stream on my profile page are also smaller and less eye-catching. I can’t say this about myself however, my own profile picture now dominates the page; I now take up quite a lot of space!

Overall design

The main issue I have with the redesign is the size and position of the stream; it doesn’t make full use of the space giving a squashed appearance, and it is relegated to the left of the window. To the right of the stream, the trending, hangouts, you may know and similar sections occupy the space at the top but below that is just empty white space! This is not popular – put #whitespace or #usesforwhitespace into the G+ search box for some G+ user-generated comments and entertainment. It also doesn’t make sense: why waste all of this space that could be occupied by the stream?

The chat box on the right can be minimised and the stream can be enlarged by zooming in (CMD+) but this isn’t an ideal fix. The stream needs to centralised and made wider. On my 15” laptop screen, the left aligned stream and white space look slightly odd but on my widescreen monitor they just look ridiculous as shown by Figure 1 below.

Another issue is the text colour for the comments: gray text on a gray background is harder to read. Maybe the text colour could be made a few shades darker?

G+ isn’t all bad though; I particularly like the new bar on the left making it easier to toggle between the different pages. You can also customise this menu slightly by changing the order of your pages: I removed the Games icon in favour of the Pages one for example.

Features

As mentioned above, I like the new vertical menu bar on the left which has improved the navigation. My Pages page is much better and makes it easier to move between accounts, this is useful since I manage a few company pages. Excluding the stream position/size, the Explore page is a good idea and my saved searches show up on the right so I can easily flick between them. I would get rid of the slider at the top but I assume this is only temporary while people get used to the new G+. In terms of the other new features, why has G+ copied Twitter’s Trending idea? Doesn’t the ‘what’s hot’ stream already serve this function better?

White space

The oddly positioned white space deserves a subsection of its own here. What are Google’s plans for this vast expanse of white space? Some people have mentioned advertising but this has been denied. (Thankfully! If G+ ended up looking like the Ryanair site it would be a disaster.) All we know is that Google ‘has plans’ for the white space. They will have to tread carefully here, otherwise G+ runs the risk of looking cluttered.

Home page

Starting with the soft gray bar at the top next to the Home icon. This is  customisable to a certain extent because you can change the order of your circles and this is matched in the bar. This could be improved by adding more then four buttons that extend to the width of the stream; minimalism is great but not when it interferes with functionality, and this would still allow for a minimal look. The More button with its dropdown menu is not ideal because I have 13 circles and 18 sparks (which don’t seem to be called sparks anymore) making my list quite long and forcing me to scroll down to reach the sparks at the end of the list.

Once you click on one of the buttons in the bar the number of people you have in that circle appear to the right. If you do this for a spark/saved search topic  then people and pages suggestions appear instead. I quite like this new feature; you can easily add people by name to your circles now, though I think some space is wasted by the selected photos that appear.

Profile page

Why are my five chosen photos now squidged into a smaller space above the stream? They were the focal point of my profile! This is particularly annoying if you manage a company page where you want to showcase designs or key images.

The profile picture itself is too big for my liking and would be better on the left. It wastes space at this size. My location is displayed under my photo and there is space to add where I work or go to university. It would be good if I could include my tagline here instead of my workplace.

I like the bar above the stream where I can toggle between my posts, about, photos, videos and plus ones. This is a neat addition that will be useful.

Conclusions

The compelling thing about G+ has always been that it isn’t anything like Facebook. It is less cluttered, there are no ads, it is easier to control who sees your posts and you can create circles to categorise your network. Unfortunately, the new G+ design is ominously like Facebook with the odd Twitter feature thrown in there.

Like many other people, I often use different social networks for different things. Roughly: Facebook is for interacting  and organising group events with my friends and local network; Twitter is for following breaking news; LinkedIn is for professional contacts and work-related group interaction and G+ is for posting and finding geeky stories that I can comment on.

G+ is really good for the variety of users, the way you can organise your circles and categorise your stream. It is unrivalled for geeky/cool images, stories and videos. If it is going to take features from other social media sites then I suggest that it drops the Trending section and allows for apps such as a polling app. This would have been particularly useful this morning when G+ was asking people what they though of the new design (see Fig.4 below); instead of asking people to +1 the particular comment they agreed with in a post, a simple poll would have sufficed, ideally with stats like the LinkedIn model.

Poll results:

Poll: Do you like the New Google+?

1 – I love it! +670

2 – It’s nice but still needs some tweaking. +1914

3 – It’s not my cup of tea. +144

4 – I hate it! +428

5 – Who cares? +235

Overall, if the design is tweaked so that it resorts to being more minimalist and the UI is made more customisable so that unwanted features can be removed then this will be a positive move by G+. I look forward to seeing the tweaked version!

Footnotes

If you want to tell Google what you think about the new G+, then click on the settings button/cog in the top right corner of your Home page and select ‘Send feedback’ to send your comments. That’s my next task…

For hacks to alter the appearance of your stream, see this post by William Gunn.:

https://plus.google.com/u/0/114096599366011465749/posts/RiSqLFK9uao


 

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