It would be fair to say that Google+, Google's social network platform play, has not been a resounding success. Google+ has its proponents, who appreciate the pains Google took to remedy some of the issues seen in public social networks including Facebook and Twitter. Google Circles, for example, helps users virtualize, if you will, their friends from their family from their professional contacts. And no less than the POTUS has made use of Google Hangouts.
Still, Google+ has not achieved the momentum many expected. That may change given several updates to the platform that were announced Wednesday at Google I/O.
The new features were announced at the Google developer conference and in a blog post by Google+ product manager Sara McKinley. Google said Google+ users will start to see changes to the platform rolled out gradually. Here are five that could raise Google+'s profile.
The biggest change to Google+ is a new focus (pardon the pun) on photos. Google seems to be taking the lead from Facebook here, and, indeed, the new look of Google+ is a lot like the revamped profile pages of Facebook, especially in terms of cover photos. Google+ lets users post "bigger cover photos, with a better aspect ratio," wrote McKinley in her blog post. "Cover photos are much larger than before (up to 2,120 px by 1,192 px), and they display in 16 x 9 when fully expanded. This way more images can be used as cover photos, and there's more room for your selection to shine."
[ Google is announcing lots of app updates at Google I/O: Where's Android? ]
Google+ will also enable users to sift through batches of photos to find the best ones to share with friends, a task that is tedious on Facebook, to say the least. But Google+ won't just make it easier to get to the photos; it will also use a series of algorithms to find images that are most important to the user and of the best quality.
Google Hangouts, already one of Google+'s big differentiators, will be more compelling through the addition of a mobile app that will let users play games, watch video and access ongoing conversations, among other things.
Google+ will include a new tab for local reviews. Here, users can highlight their favorite attractions, restaurants, movies, etc. This will certainly give users more reason to visit the site (who doesn't want to see what their friends and colleagues recommend and why?), and it provides a new and more focused channel for business branding (even if they aren't the ones doing the branding themselves).
4. Google+ Stream
Google+'s stream will get the three-column format that the mobile apps currently have. This will provide easier access to more organized information. (It also looks a lot like Pinterest.)
5. Easier Editing
It will now be easier for users to edit their info. "The 'About' tab now consists of separate cards (like Story, Places and Links) -- each with its own prominent edit link," wrote McKinley. "As always: you can share specific fields with specific circles, or keep them just for you."
Google said at its developer conference that Google+ currently has 190 million monthly active users, compared with Facebook's 1.1 billion monthly active members. Clearly, Google+ has a way to go to catch up, but these new changes will certainly help the platform move away from the specter of "ghost town."
What changes are you excited to see? What else does Google need to do to make Google+ a force to be reckoned with? Please let us know in the comments section below.