Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Google+ Drops the Ball

Of the various social networks out there,  +Google+  is my favourite. I have always found it easy to use, easy to control what one sees, and easy to control what others see. What is more, it has always seemed to me that there is generally more worthwhile content and discussion than on other social networks. Unfortunately, today Google+ rolled out a new layout that I think seriously compromises the usability of the site for many of us.

Among the biggest changes is to Google+'s stream, the continuous feed of updates from everyone has circled (I won't explain circles here, but it is similar to following someone on Tumblr or Twitter).  While the original Google+ stream was single column, the new stream can be double to even triple column depending on one's screen size and resolution. Now that is not so bad, as one can set his or her stream to single column. The problem is that one's profile (as well as everyone else's is automatically double columned and there is no was to change it to single column. As someone who prefers for his profile to be linear in fashion, with the newest posts at the top and the oldest at the bottom, this is a very unacceptable. I wish Google+ had given us the ability to view our own profiles and others' profiles as a single column, much as we can with the stream.

Another change was to Google+ Chat, merging it with Google+ hangouts (essentially video chat). With the old Google+ chat one could make himself or herself visible to only certain circles or totally invisible to everyone, or one could even set himself or herself to "Busy". Sadly, with today's update all of this seems to have been done away with. One is visible to everyone, inviting unwanted chat invitations, and there is no way to set oneself to "Busy", let alone "Invisible" . Worse yet, the hangout bar that replaced the chat bar at the right of the screen may display people with whom one never chats while not displaying people with whom one regularly chats. This makes the chat/hangout bar nearly useless, as one cannot tell if those with whom regularly chats are even online. Google+ should really change chat back to the way it was or the way it still is on GMail.

Another change to the Google+ layout that is extremely problematic is the fact that the stream no longer automatically refreshes. Instead there is a blue alert button in the upper left hand corner that displays the number of new posts on the stream. One has to press this button to see the new posts. In the end this makes it more difficult to keep track of new posts.

While I consider these major complaints, I do have some minor ones as well. Neither people's birthdays nor the trending topics are displayed on the home page any longer. I liked having birthdays displayed on the home page as it made it easy to keep track of them. For someone like me who can easily forget dates, that was very handy to have. As to the trending topics, I just enjoyed seeing what was trending on Google+. It's not that important that they are not displayed, but it did add a bit to my enjoyment of the site.

My last complaint about the new Google+ layout is a rather petty one. Others might think differently and yet others might not care either way. That having been said, I think the new Google+ layout is just plain ugly. There is a good deal more white space (well, grey space, to be literal about it) on either side of one's stream. The same is true of one's profile (which is even uglier due to the double column). Quite frankly, the old Google+ layout was much better looking.

Now there are a few people who like the new layout, so unfortunately I don't  think Google+ can do away with it entirely. That having been said, I do think they can make some very dramatic improvements. First, give us the ability to see profiles in a single column. Second, change Google+ chat/hangout so it is more like the old chat, so that one only sees those with whom he or she regularly chats and not everyone in one's circles. Third, restore the ability of the stream to auto-refresh. Fourth (and many might disagree with this one), make the new layout look more like the old layout, or at least figure out a way to pretty it up!

Google+ is my favourite social network and this is the first time I can say that I am very unhappy with it. I honestly think they dropped the ball on this new layout and I worry that people might stop using Google+ entirely if they don't make changes and fast. I won't stop using Google+, but I can say right now that my enjoyment of the site decreased considerably with today's changes. And unless they make the changes I recommend above, I can't see my enjoyment of Google+ returning to what it was when we had the old layout.

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