Just when you thought you'd come to know and understand Google+, that you'd hit the peak of the learning curve - boom. You arrive on the page and suddenly there are big photos here, the buttons are over there, and maybe it looks a bit crisper and more modern, but where is everything? And, more importantly, what are you missing out on that's new but subtle?
Let's take a guided, time-crunched tour through what's new in Google+ on the web. The mobile apps look mostly the same, for now, but those will likely update soon. Head to plus.google.com with your Google or Google Apps account, and let's get to pointing and clicking.This blog post is also available as a Slideshow Photo Gallery.
Google+ took the navigation tools that used to be small links at the top of your "stream," or the main column of Plus items, and moved them over to the left. They also made them customizable. So if you tend to use the Photos section of Google+ quite a bit (and, really, you should, because it's probably the best feature), you can click and hold down on Photos and drag it up the sidebar, putting it right at the top or wherever you see fit. Stuff you don't need displayed prominently on the left can be dragged on top of the "More" button to be tucked away.
On certain sidebar items, hovering over the item for a half-second or so brings up a sub-menu. On Photos, for example, those menus lead you right to the photos you've recently uploaded automatically "From your phone," to your existing Albums, or to the upload dialog for new photos you have handy on your desktop.
In the stream, the main list of posts, there are some subtle but hopefully time-saving, sense-making changes of note.
For one thing, everything's a bit roomier. Photos can be much bigger and recognizable in the stream, and videos are embedded at a size that you could actually watch in the stream, without having to click away into a new tab.
The author of a post is set off to the left, as a kind of bubble pointing to that post, so that when your friend re-shares a post made by a famous person (say, Adam Savage of Mythbusters), that chain of posting is much more clear.
And the discussion around a post has become easier to understand. It's fun to follow a mix of both big-time names and your more modest, knowable friends, but the well-followed personalities get hundreds, or thousands, of +1 punches and comments on their posts, and trying to make sense of any of it used to require a lot of mouse scrolling. Now Google+ packs the relevant information into a drop-down box, and sorts out the people you may know who interacted with a post, puts mini scroll bars in the lists, and only shows you the last comment on a post, or your contacts' comments, until you click for more.
Take note, too, that your main stream now has a few button links at the top to quickly get you to your "Family" and "Friends" circles, and that the "slider" on the top-right corner of the stream is still there to control how often the people in the circle you're looking at appear in your main stream.
Your Google+ profile
Yes, yes - it's anything except subtle, the way Google+ now lets you have a very Facebook-like landscape photo at the top of your profile. But at least with the new profile options, you have more control over what people see when they arrive at your page, rather than having to pick out three or five photos you think make for a nice spread.
The tools for managing pages, posting content to them, and controlling the circles of followers, customers, and so on are mostly the same. What's new is the easy way of getting to those Pages: move Pages up in your sidebar to a prominent spot, click it, and you get a nice, easy landing page that instantly switches between your identities on Google+. You can still do this through the drop-down options on your profile image in the upper-right corner, but this is easier.
Google+ Hangouts are really neat, especially given the zero-dollar, zero-cent cost. But getting to those interactive video chats used to require seeing the Hangout as it was happening in your stream, or explicitly inviting people in your circles to a Hangout and hoping they'd see it. The new Google+ has a kind of meta-Hangout page: hang out and see who's Hanging Out.
That's certainly not everything new in Google+, but it's the most noticeable new stuff. What else are you noticing about the new Google+?
Kevin Purdy is a freelance writer, a former editor at Lifehacker.com, and the author of The Complete Android Guide.