Google+ gets 'more functional, flexible' design

Google improves navigation, Hangouts page; Also claims 170M Google+ users, up from 62M in January

Notice something different on your Google+ page today?

Google Wednesday morning said it has started rolling out a redesign of its Google+ social network.

At the same time, the company announced that Google+ now has some 170 million users, up from an estimated 62 million in January.

Vic Gundotra, a senior vice president at Google, wrote in a blog post today that the Google+ upgrades improve the site's navigation, make it easier to join online discussions and adds a dedicated Hangout page.

"Today we're introducing a more functional and flexible version of Google+," wrote Gundotra in the post. "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."

He also said the company is planning more changes to simplify the use of all Google products. "We're going to continue upgrading all the features you already know and love -- from search and Maps to Gmail and YouTube," he noted.

The redesign sports more white space and moves the traditional five-button navigation bar from the top of the page to a new "navigation ribbon" along the left-side. The buttons, including Circles, Profile, Hangouts and Photos, can now be hidden or rearranged.

The new look also extends user profiles. With a large picture at the top and the user's photo to the right, the profile page seems to have taken a cue from Facebook's new user profile design.

"The new look is attractive and inviting, with the available apps lining the left margin and the middle available for showing stream content," said Dan Olds, an analyst with The Gabriel Consulting Group.

He added that Google faces a problem of few people seeing the updated social network. "If a little-used social network interface changes and no one sees it, does it still make a splash? The answer is, no, not so much," Olds said.

Olds noted that he doubts Google's claim that its social network alone now has 170 million users.

"The numbers being quoted are all over the map," he added.

"The latest number is 170 million, but that also includes users of Google's other services, like Gmail and YouTube. They may have a Google+ account, but may not be actively using it as their social networking hub," Olds said. "There's a pretty good chance that many people who see the new interface won't recognize it as new, since they weren't on the site enough to get familiar with the old interface."

Brad Shimmin, an analyst with CurrentAnalysis, said Google appears to be moving Google+ more in line with the look and feel of other Google services.

"The redesigned interface follows on nicely with earlier UI changes to other Google Apps, such as Google Docs," he added. "Overall, the new UI for Google+ is very clean, easier to understand and more in line with the way Google+ can and should be used relative to other Google Apps programs."

Patrick Moorhead, an analyst with Moor Insights & Strategy, said Google+ users should see positive changes.

"The changes make Google+ look more modern and meaty," said Moorhead.

"The previous design looked clean but barren. I believe this will be a better look that will help current and potential Google+ users. The best changes to Google+ are the overall presentation robustness," Moorhead said.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her e-mail address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

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