Google+ Gets a Makeover
Google has introduced a slew of changes that will make it easier to enhance and share digital media on Google+.
It unveiled the new features at a Tuesday event in San Francisco, where it also revealed that Google+ now has 540 million active monthly users who upload 1.5 billion photos each week.
Several of the Google+ updates are aimed toward helping users work with those photos, which range from grainy cellphone shots to professionally produced images.
Users can enhance them with several new filters, or digitally edit them with Snapseed and an HDR Scape filter. Unlike Instagram's tools, the new Google+ editing features won't force cropping or condensing of images.
The new Auto Awesome feature has several components designed to better capture action. Users can turn a series of action photos, such as a person skateboarding, into a strobe-effect image that pieces together all the captured elements. Users can also put those shots into a reel-style movie, adding effects like a soundtrack and transitions.
The updates make it easier for users to search their photos using keywords such as "beach" or "concert."
Google has also updated Hangouts, the video chat application on Google+, adding automatic lighting adjustments and the ability to share locations via Google Maps.
SMS messaging is now integrated into Hangouts.
Users can schedule Hangouts On Air, which are broadcast publicly, and use a watch screen to promote the conversation.
"The improvements to Google+ Hangouts are cool, especially the dedicated watch page for Hangouts," Internet marketing expert Brian Carter told TechNewsWorld. "From a business perspective, the ability to use Hangouts instead of other webinar or screen-sharing apps is disruptive for the companies that charge for this. Hangouts haven't had all the components they need, though, and the watch page helps."
Targeting a Smaller Crowd
This product refresh isn't going to suddenly make Google+ the new Facebook or Twitter -- but that's not what Google is aiming to do with its social space, said Carter. The company knows it has a smaller core group of users, and is rolling out incremental updates that cater to them.
"There are definitely a lot of people who want Google+ to succeed," he noted. "These improvements are a way for the Google and Android folks to stay on par with what the Apple folks have. But the Auto Awesome Movie and other photo enhancement techniques are more than that -- they're not imitations -- so it's nice to see that the Google and Android product and programming teams are thinking ahead about making the user experience more awesome."
Google+ is in a unique position in that it has the freedom to go after that smaller crowd and invest more in user experience, said Trip Chowdhry, senior analyst for Global Equities Research. Facebook has to prove to investors that its site is the preferred social network for consumers, shareholders and advertisers, but Google's social platform is only a small portion of its overall business.
"Google+ doesn't need to make a sudden change that is going to bring in advertisers quickly but upset users, or report every user that comes and goes in a quarter, for example," Chowdhry told TechNewsWorld. "Google has the cash to take a bold, long look at Google+, look into what certain consumers really want that is a little different from what they're getting somewhere else, and invest in changes that might not get it to a billion users worldwide, but will make it fantastic for a core group of users."