Mobility

The new and much improved Google+

Google has made some serious changes to Google+...changes that could easily bring it to the top of the social networking heap. Jack Wallen discusses these changes and why they are important.

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Image: Jack Wallen

Google keeps upping the ante on nearly every product it touches. Google+ is not exempt from that Midas finger. Recently Google made some fairly significant changes to their social networking "experiment" and those changes should be the things that bring users flocking away from that dark spiral of Facebook.

"Should" being the operative word. Unfortunately, most average users still fear change (though tell them that when the newest, shiniest mobile device arrives)...so Google+ will be hard-pressed to find users adopting their superior unfamiliar in lieu of an inferior familiar (that should sound familiar).

What exactly has Google done to Plus that makes this change so profound? They've decided to focus on what Google+ does right and jettison what it does wrong (are you listening Facebook?). Primarily, what Google has done is turn Google+ into a world of Communities and made it incredibly easy to interact with those Communities. They did this with good reason. Google+ sees over 1.2 million joins in Communities each day. And their Collections feature (a way to group your posts by topic) has been steadily gaining ground since launch.

The big question, "What is to become of Google+?" has finally been answered. Google+ is now a topic-centric social network, intent on making the curating of content a snap. Instead of just following members and suffering from the failing organic reach experiment of Facebook, you join Communities and interact with like-minded (at least that's the idea) users and you create or follow collections of posts centered around a specific topic.

Form over function or function over form?

That's all fine and good (and it is quite good, to be frank), but how does it function? What has Google done to make Plus a bit more user-friendly? Believe it or not, they've done quite a bit. The most important thing Google has changed is how one posts to either the Public or a Community. Instead of having to navigate to the community you want to post to, all you have to do is select said Community from the posting popup window (Figure A).

Figure A

Figure A
Image: Jack Wallen

Selecting a community to share to from with the post window.

At the same time, you can click on the menu button (three vertical dots) and select to disable comments and reshares. That alone is a feature many will greatly appreciate. Making product or service announcements doesn't always warrant comments from any given gallery of trolls...now you can shut them down before they get the chance.

You can still add images, links, and location to your post, but the control you've gained with that simplistic posting window is significant. What's even better is that the same functionality holds true across the device continuum. Everything offered on the Google+ web edition is available on the mobile app (Figure B).

Figure B

Figure B
Image: Jack Wallen

Google+ from the perspective of a Verizon-branded Nexus 6.

You may be asking "Why the change?" Simple...the users spoke and Google listened. Google knew they weren't going to succeed at simply trying to out Facebook Facebook. So instead, they (and their users) decided to do what Facebook was failing to do...curate content into topics (via Communities and Collections) and make it incredibly easy for users to interact with said topics.

I, for one, am thrilled about the changes Google has made with Plus. This is exactly what Social Network 2.0 needs to be...the curating of content by and for users such that it is easier to find, easier to share, and harder to troll (thanks to the ability to disable comments).

Still room for improvement

As with just about anything, there is room for improvements. For example, I would love to be able to order things in my Collections as I can in, say, Google Keep. As it is, Collections quickly turns into a never-ending scrollathon where you can't even pin a post at the top or see posts side-by side. It's just a one-at-a-time rodeo. When you're trying to highlight products or blurbs, this quickly becomes a challenge for viewers (especially when they don't want to have to endlessly scroll through your content).

Another feature Google+ needs is the ability to add certain Communities and/or Collections as favorites in the left navigation. When you follow a lot of communities, it can become difficult to navigate to the one you want to view when you have to click Communities | Member and then scroll to find the Community you wish to visit. The same holds true of Collections.

The Conclusion

Even with minor nits to pick, Google+ is a far cry from what it once was. Long time users should be thrilled with the changes Google has made to their social networking product and Facebook users would be remiss for not checking out what Google+ has to offer. I know I'll be spending a lot more time on Google+ now and a bit less time on Facebook.

What about you?

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About Jack Wallen

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen.com.

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