Continuing its revamp of the Google+ social network that began in March, Google announced on Wednesday the addition of 41 new features and a redesign of the service, which it claims has 190 million active users.
The changes focus on three areas — the Google+ stream, photos, and the Hangouts feature.
Among other things, Google+ will automatically add hashtags to posts, identify and rank related conversations across the network, serve up the hashtags for that content, and let users browser related content inline by clicking on the hashtags.
In a related development, Google has launched cross-platform single sign-on for developers. Users who log onto an app in one device will be able to get to the same location in that app on another device without having to log on again.
Google is going about things the wrong way, said Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group.
“Social is not a battle about features or the technology,” Enderle told TechNewsWorld. “People go where their friends are, they don’t go to clubs to enjoy the LED lights.”
Flowing in the Google+ Stream
Google+ has been redesigned so users will see one, two or three columns of content, depending on the size of the screen on their device and its orientation.
Photos and videos can fill the entire width of the stream. Google+ now animates features in the stream — among other things, the sharebox bounces, the menus slide, and the cards flip and fade.
The increased emphasis on visual content in the stream appears to mirror what Facebook did when it overhauled Newsfeed in March, putting photos front and center.
Some observers have compared the Google+ multicolumn layout to that of Facebook and Pinterest.
“Google remains one of the companies that’s doing social but still doesn’t understand social, so it’s forced to chase the other guys,” Enderle said.
Google+’s new Auto Backup feature will automatically back up photos taken with mobile devices. Users will get 15 GB of free storage for photos.
An Auto Highlight feature will highlight only the best shots in users’ albums. An Auto Enhance feature will automatically improve various aspects of photographs, including the brightness, contrast, saturation, and focus. Users can undo the changes at any time.
The so-called Auto Awesome feature will automatically animate a sequence of photos in users’ albums, or create a composite family photo showing subjects’ best smiles from a collection of family photos. It will do the same thing with panoramas and filmstrips.
Consumers will like the photo features “because they combine the functions of Picasa but make these almost invisible to the user,” Jim McGregor, founder and principal analyst at Tirias Research, told TechNewsWorld. “Combine this with more free storage space and the ability to store the high-resolution version of our photos and you have a really cool solution.”
Having computation help in image processing “will only help people who want better and more relevant pictures,” said Brian Blau, a research director at GartnerGartner. “People who don’t want to load up sophisticated photo processing tools will probably really like these new photo features.”
Hangouts Stand Alone
Google also launched a standalone version of its Hangouts service as a free app. This combines text, photos and live video across Android, iOS and users’ computers.
“This is good news for Hangouts lovers,” Gartner’s Blau told TechNewsWorld.
The Hangouts app has a conversation history that lets users revisit earlier comments. This feature can be turned off if desired.
Hangouts lets users make free video calls to people they’re communicating with, whether one-on-one or in group chats.
Google has also streamlined Hangouts, so once a notification appears on one device it’s cleared off users’ other Android devices and computers.
Users can put Hangouts on snooze if they don’t want to be disturbed.