Today Google launched a major redesign of Google+ which improves the design of almost every part of the site but honestly – who cares? Do they really think a new design can really be a differentiator for the site or is them just playing catch-up? Have they created any truly differentiated functionality or is it just a new coat of paint on the same house? Let’s take a look at what’s new and see if we can find some answers.
The biggest change to the site comes with the new Navigation Ribbon (you can see it in action here) which moves your homepage or profile buttons from near the top search bar on the old site into big buttons that run down the edge of the screen occupying the huge white space that was on the left side of the page. The Ribbon also lets you have better customization to arrange the site controls the way you want them as you can rearrange or hide the buttons the suit your individual needs and browsing style. It has a definite reminder to the Apple OS X dock and I can’t help but wonder if this is a test to see if this type of design would work for a new Google+ driven mobile OS.
Other improvement are centered around a bigger push to Hangouts which are their real-time video chats that let groups of people all chat together at the same time. I think Hangouts is one the great differentiator for Google+ which has gone really underutilized and under promoted. Hangouts changes the value of a social network from posts from your friends to a form of face-to-face conversation. This is a completely different social dynamic than what you see on Facebook or Twitter but it remains to be seen if it will really catch on and find mass adoption. You mainly see this new push to Hangouts in a bar that shows you which of your friends is online and again reminds me of work done by another company – Facebook. You will also find that Hangouts now has its own page that where you can see what your friends are talking about but also join popular conversations with anyone.
As much as it hurts me to say it, I think we can all see that it’s simply too late for even the best design to be able to save Google+. The fact is that Facebook and Google+ are like Coke and Pepsi or Cats and Dogs for consumers where you like one or the other but not both. Facebook has too much of a head start and is too engrained into our society for a simple new design to Google+ to change that fact. This new version Google+ has too much work that reminds you of other things and not nearly enough tangible differentiators like Hangouts which are the only things that are going to create a real shift in behavior and site usage. Until they are able to create the really differentiated experience and show consumers the value in using the site I don’t see me or anyone else leaving Facebook any time soon.