After less than a year, Google gives its Google+ social network a fresh look. Check out changes due during the next few days.
Google on Wednesday introduced a new look for Google+, its social network, underscoring its commitment to competing on aesthetic grounds in addition to technical merits.
Though Google+ is less than a year old, it already has more than 100 million users, thanks to Google's aggressive effort to make its products social and to encourage Google+ participation.
Google senior VP of social Vic Gundotra suggests design is an essential ingredient for Google+. "We think you'll find it easier to use and nicer to look at, but most importantly, it accelerates our efforts to create a simpler, more beautiful Google," said Gundotra in a blog post.
The new Google+ will be rolled out during the next few days. The navigation icons at the top of Google+ pages have been replaced with a vertical navigation ribbon that can be rearranged as the user sees fit.
Sharing has been made more visual with larger photos and videos. Community discussion access has been improved with conversation "cards," which make it easier to scan comment lists. There's also an activity drawer to help users discover discussions related to content they've shared.
Hangouts, Google's video sharing service, has been awarded its own page, which will list popular public and on-air Hangouts.
An Explore page has been added to showcase trending topics on Google+. Profiles now support larger photos and there's a new chat list for faster access to friends, among other improvements.
Google CEO Larry Page appears to be remaking Google with some of best elements of Apple, which has long emphasized the beauty of its products. Google is also following in Apple's footsteps with its acquisition of Motorola Mobility, which will give Google control over both its software and at least some Android hardware.
Beauty matters to Google because beauty--at least as expressed in high-end design and applied to interfaces--has some correlation with ease of use. Also, the ease with which Web service features can be replicated online--we have photos, they have photos--means that aesthetics play a larger role in product differentiation. As Google might pitch it: "Google+, it's like Facebook, only prettier."
When Facebook began catching up to MySpace five years ago, its rapid rise was in part attributed to its more sophisticated design. Danah Boyd, then a Ph.D. student at the School of Information Sciences at University of California at Berkeley and presently a researcher at Microsoft, argued in a 2007 paper about the two social networks that upwardly mobile teens "prefer the 'clean' look of Facebook, noting that it is more mature and that MySpace is 'so lame.'" By the time MySpace got around to dressing for success, it was too late.
Google appears to be tuning its products to appeal to that same demographic, people who value refinement.