The design overhaul sees the simplification of the user interface, as well as the introduction of a number of new features. Following in the footsteps of Facebook's new Timeline design for its profile pages, Google+ profiles now feature large banner images behind the user's profile picture. The new feature is even dubbed a “cover photo” by Google, replicating the terminology used by Facebook.
Google+ has also introduced a “navigation ribbon”, which places all navigation panes in a left-hand column – also not dissimilar to the Facebook interface. Users can now customise their apps by changing the order in which they appear, as well as which ones to show or hide. This has also fuelled speculation that the redesign could be a springboard for the integration of third-party apps.
The chat interface on Google+ has also now shifted to a column on the right hand side of the screen, again mimicking the Facebook chat layout. Senior VP of social at Google, Vic Gundotra, says the redesign is in keeping with Google's goal to build a seamless social experience across its services.
“A critical piece of this social layer is a design that grows alongside our aspirations,” says Gundotra. “We're introducing a more functional and flexible version of Google+. We think you'll find it easier to use and nicer to look at, but most importantly, it accelerates our efforts to create a simpler, more beautiful Google.”
The update also includes what Gundotra calls “more evocative” sharing, with a number of aesthetic tweaks such as full bleed photos and videos. The emphasis on visual elements again follows the same strategy as that used for Facebook's recent redesign.
Google+ Hangouts now have a dedicated Hangouts page, which includes easy access to public and “on air” live broadcasts. The page also features a rotating billboard of the most popular hangouts.
Another new feature is also a renewed emphasis on real-time content with a new “Explore” page that shows what's trending across the network, again not dissimilar to Twitter's trending topics.
“By focusing on you, the people you care about, and the stuff you're into, we're going to continue upgrading all the features you already know and love – from Search and Maps to Gmail and YouTube,” says Gundotra.
According to Gundotra, since launch, over 170 million have “upgraded” to Google+. In Google CEO Larry Page's most recent investor update, he stated the social platform has over 100 million active users (although he did not elaborate on how Google defines “active users”).
The response to the redesign has been fairly mixed, with Forbes and other publications calling it “simply more beautiful than Facebook”. Tech commentator Mark Wilson, however, notes in a post for CoDesign: “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.”
Wilson says the Google+ redesign is “better in almost every way”, but that it is too late for a redesign alone to save the day for the search giant's social network. One user said on Twitter: “Ohh Google+ has a new look. Now back to ignoring it.”
Regardless, the redesign has sparked some renewed interest in Google+ with an online meme that pokes fun at the “white space” included in the redesign. The white space has been created as a result of Google+ shifting to a responsive Web design, whereby the elements on the page dynamically shift as the size of the browser is adjusted.
As a result, users with wide screen displays see a large area of white space between the stream and the elements on the right of the page. This has led to a fast-growing online meme with the hashtag “whitespace” and users finding creative ways to fill the space, ranging from pot plants to Betty White.
Some of the comments doing the rounds from users include: “When Google was petitioning for the #whitespace spectrum, I didn't realise it would be used to redesign Google+.”
“I think #whitespace is better than the ads that Facebook would have placed there.”
TechCrunch says Google has indicated it is well aware of the white space, but is not revealing any details as to what its future intentions for the space may be.