Road testing the new Google+ features

Road testing the new Google+ features

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Google announced a slew of developments to its services at Google I/O, its annual developer conference in San Francisco last week, many of which related to Google+. The changes to Google+ are further evidence, if any were needed, that Google+ is far more than a social network. Google+ combined with Google search, is an influencer management system that enables Google to build a social graph of each user and a semantic history of their web usage.

In Google’s case these combine every interaction that you make on the web via Google’s services.

Using this data Google personalises search results and content to you. If you sign into Google search with a Google account you’ll already see this in action. Results from your network on Google+ and prior web history are prioritised.

new-googleplus

Public relations: Google is in the influence and relationship business

My view is that Google is a web infrastructure and services company that is in the business of public relations and influencer marketing. Its vision is to help users find information on the web. Its purpose is to connect individuals and organisatons as efficiently as possible in a two-way engagement.

Approximately 80 per cent of searches on the web worldwide start with a Google service according to comScore data reported by Danny Sullivan in Search Engine Land in February 2013.

Google is working hard to improve the consumer appeal of Google+ over Facebook, its main competitor. The platform launched in November 2011 and according to Google’s own data reached 500 million users at the end of 2012. The user demographic so far is tech savvy, media and Internet innovators and early adopters. But it’s changing, and fast.

It’s no surprise that many of the product announcements this week from Google I/O relate to Google+ interface and applications. Google wants the drive sign-ups and engagement via the platform.

Reviewing and testing the new Google+ features

I’ve spent the last few days reviewing announcements from the Google I/O event with colleagues from Ketchum and road testing some of the new features to bring you our view of the changes and what they mean for organisations and users.

The majority of the new features have been enabled immediately. If you’ve spotted something that I haven’t please share it via the comments and I’ll update this post.

Form and function

– the layout of Google+ has changed. It’s much cleaner and slicker. Many commentators have compared it with the Pinterest interface.

The news stream remains centre screen. The wholesale use of white space promotes content on the platform over applications and features.

The Google+ navigation menu has been tucked away on the left hand side of the screen, accessible by rolling over the home button.

Likewise a Hangout menu is tucked away on the right hand side of the screen, accessible via a green speech mark button. More on that shortly.

Stream layout – The Circle filters that enable your stream to be organised by the content posted by individuals in each of your Circles appear on the top of the screen.

There are two options for how content is served in your stream. You can either pick a single sequential flow or a modular magazine-like two or three-column layout. The latter is optimised to the size and orientation of your screen.

Cards – Google+ serves posts in a white card or tile-like format that stands out from the muted grey of the interface. We first saw cards on the Google Now personal assistant service. It’s a neat way of organising and serving content.

The analytics for each piece of content, containing information about interactions and sharing, are accessed by clicking the drop down menu and served on the rear of the card. It’s a neat design feature.

Sharing content – Google+ has changed the way that content appears in the stream. Text posts are truncated with an option to click to access additional text. There doesn’t appear to be any standard rule for how the text is abridged. If you've figured this out I'd love to hear from you.

If you share a link, the headline and URL appears alongside an image. The meta-description from the associated webpage is no longer shown. The lesson is clear. If you want Google+ users to click through to your content you need to optimise your posts and links.

Hangouts – Gmail chat and Google+chat are both gone and have been merged into Google Hangouts. This is a powerful platform in itself that enables two or more people to participate in a live video discussion via the Internet.

Up to 10 people can participate in a Google+ Hangout but more can follow via Google+. Once the conversation is over it can be saved, shared and searched via YouTube.

#hashtag conversations – New Google+ posts are automatically tagged with a hashtag. You can override this feature in the Google+ settings, you can remove hashtags manually, or you can add your own. Hashtags are shown at the top right of each post.

When you click on a hashtag on a post, Google+ collates all the related public posts, or posts that have been shared with you by your network. It serves the results either on the reverse of the post or card, or in a new window, depending on the volume of content. It’s a very neat feature that allows you to quickly retrieve posts on a topic or issue.

Trending topics and the most popular posts on Google+ are displayed via the What’s Hot option on the Home menu.

Images – Google has embedded some powerful technology within image sharing on Google+. It is clearly a feature that Google is seeking to use to draw in new users.

If you use Google+ on a mobile phone or tablet it automatically uploads any photo that you take in the background to Google+. Alternatively you can manually upload images. All users will have 15GB of free storage space according to Google (my account hasn’t been upgraded yet from 5GB).

Google+ has rolled out automatic image enhancement to tweak images to brightness, colour, contrast and noise. Its goal is to make your images look as good as possible.

There’s more. Google+ will automatically identify what it believes to be your most important photos and automatically organises these into a dedicated highlight feed.

Gone are blurred images, multiple copies of the same image, and snaps of people with their eyes closed. In are images of people that are smiling and images that are well-framed.

Auto Awesome creates new versions of your when it detects a series of similar images. I’ve yet to see this feature enabled but it reportedly creates montages, panoramas, high-definition images and short animations.

Final point: if you’d rather than Google+ didn’t muck about with your images you can turn all these features off in your personal settings. In fact the same applies for all the Google services. It’s straightforward to tweak them in your user settings.

Recommendation: jump in, if you haven’t already

If you haven’t signed-up to Google+ yet I recommend that you do.

The relationship between Google+ and Author Rank as a means of promoting content via the network and in search clearly sign-posted Google’s strategic intent for the platform in November 2012. If that didn’t convince you then maybe one of the new features will persuade you to have another look.

The opportunity for organisations is to promote their content via the platform through search and the networks of their employees and partners.

Organisations have a further opportunity to use the platform to build their own communities via brand pages. These provide a means to directly engage via audience via the platform, search and Google Maps.

Finally Google+ Communities and Hangouts provide an exciting means for two-way engagement.

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