Just over a year since the last major redesign to Google+, Senior Vice President Vic Gundotra has revealed at I/O 2013 that the search company is completely reworking the layout of its social network. It will be available later today. The new design bears resemblance to the rather attractive layout Google+ adopted for its iPad and Android tablet apps last June: a three column-wide grid of cards replaces the long list of posts, photos, and comments that currently makes up the Google+ Stream, and high-resolution photos and videos take up the full screen width. There will also be an option to switch to a one-column view. By exposing visitors to more visual content at once, Google is likely hoping that users will find something that intrigues them quicker.
The redesign doesn't just feature a new layout for your Google+ stream — the company has also worked to turn the website into more of a proper app instead of a website. The redesign includes some very nifty animations that should serve to make using the social network a bit more fun. For example, clicking on a card flips it over to reveal comments. When you want to write a new post, clicking a button on the top right flies a window onto your screen to let you compose.
Part of the spruced-up Google+ is focused on hashtags. Hashtags have been expanded, and the social network will automatically scan your updates to add relevant links (you can disable the feature if you'd like). Google is also able to scan photos you upload, like one of the Eiffel Tower, and tag it appropriately.
What's more important than a new coat of paint (even if it is nice paint) for Google+ is the suite of photo features the company has announced today for its social network.
"Auto Awesome creates a new image from something that didn't exist."
First, Google plans to automatically make your pictures better. A feature called Auto Enhance will analyze and apply tweaks to your uploaded photos. From what we've heard on stage, this will include simple adjustments like brightness, contrast, color correction, noise reduction, tonal distribution, and saturation, but it will also make some more intensive changes. One demonstration showed how Google detects faces and will automatically blur out skin there to hide zits, for instance. Going off of the few examples we've seen, the feature looks quite effective, but it might be overzealous. All of the adjustments are non-destructive and you can disable Auto Enhance if you like. If you are looking at a photo that you upload you can look at before and after shots to decide if you want to use the feature.
There's also something called "Auto Awesome." By detecting the kinds of photos you take, Google is going to try to make other improvements. For example, if you upload a series of similar photos taken in a short period of time Google will automatically make an animated GIF out of it. If you upload a set of group photos it will stitch together one picture so that everyone is smiling. It will also make auto panoramas and HDR photos if you upload the right kinds of pictures.
The company is also going to pick out the best ones out of everything you've uploaded. By using algorithms, a feature called Auto Highlight will skip over blurry photos, duplicates, and underexposed shots, for instance, and choose the "best" photos to show off. Ideally, you'll be able to upload 600 pictures from your vacation straight to Google+ and not worry about having to sift through and pick the best ones to share.
Lastly, in addition to all the photo features, Google's heavily-rumored unified messaging service, Hangouts, is integrated into the Google+ redesign. Google is releasing Hangout apps for Android, iOS, and Chrome (as well as integration with Gmail). Instead of a mess of Google Talk, Google Messenger, and Video Hangouts, it's all streamlined across platforms — a much overdue change. Read much more on the new unified Google Hangouts here.
Google is clearly leveraging its massive cloud capabilities to try to make Google+ the best home for photos online — and attract users to a social network that's struggled to carve out its own niche in a world of Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Most of the changes are focused on making uploading and sharing photos — a very tedious task — less painful. The company has already introduced photo-friendly features like unlimited uploads for photos under 2048-pixels wide, a fullscreen picture viewer, and 15GB of free space for photos that break that limit, and with all of the additions today it looks like the company has put together a very compelling package.