Hands-On: Google Plus Redesign Apes Facebook, In a Good Way

Google is rolling out a new design for Google+. You may already have this clean, easy to navigate look, which definitely improves the user experience. The three column layout with an optional chat column to the very right is very reminiscent of the layout of Facebook. Unlike the News Feed of Facebook, you’ll actually find yourself wanting to take some time to read the posts on the Home page of Google+ instead of just scrolling to the bottom to glance at what you’ve missed. 

The new layout stays true to Google’s minimal design aesthetics. The font is modern. The colors are basically different shades of gray. When you hover over areas like the Trending section, it softly glows a different color. The large open spaces and simple font makes posts easy to read and it does not feel overwhelming in the way the Facebook’s Timeline can sometimes be. The menu bar is now on the left side of the page as a part of the new dynamic dock. You can drag the features you want to and from the more tab in the dock.

On the top of the right column of Google+, you’ll now see what’s trending on the social network, as well as tabs for Hangouts, You May Know and You Might Like. Each of the categories only has a few, well-spaced items that is helpful when you need it but is not in your face about its presence. This bar also scrolls off the page as you scroll down, instead of following you and forcing you to connect with people and topics.

But the design is just the beginning of the changes. We went hands-on with several of the new features.

Trending on Google+ is a really great way to catch up on current events and topics. You can click on a trend and sort it by Everything, People and pages, Google+ posts, Sparks, Hangouts, From your circles, From you and From this location. You can further choose how you want to see the trending posts by choosing between Most recent and the Best of. The Best of shows the posts with the most amount of +1’s.

As trending posts pore in, the news feed updates in real time. This can get really overwhelming real quick. Luckily, Google has put in a pause button at the top so that you can pause the timeline.

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The Explore section uses a slider for controlling the amount of posts that show up in your Home page. Reminiscent of a cleanly designed news app, you can get lost here easily, discovering cool articles in all different topics –like news of the weird, serious journalism, photo journalism, music videos, and great YouTube finds. We’d love to see a feature that lets us curate this area to our particular interests.

The new Google Hangout was obviously designed for collaborating on projects instead of pure socialization. They’ve added such features as Google Doc and Google Sketchpad integration, and even made it possible to add a phone call to the chat. You can also share your screen with other people in the Hangout. You can share documents, or YouTube videos, or even games with this feature.

We love the new design of Google Plus, the new ways to consume the news through trending topics, and the integration of other Google services in the new Hangout.  At the end of the day, looking at Facebook feels like snooping while looking at Google+ feels more productive. Currently, the Google+ crowd seems to share more professional stories and finds. Most people probably will not ditch Facebook but Google+ does give you a fresh start in terms of who to follow and who to friend.

You’ll be seeing more of us on Google Plus in the near future.

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