Tomorrow, Facebook is expected to announce some major changes to its News Feed. This has been a long time in coming and many people agree that, compared to the growing competition amongst modern social networks, the News Feed is one of the oldest, stalest, and ugliest presentations of information around. Okay, maybe it's not that bad, but it could use a refresher, so we're all eagerly awaiting the chang-Oh hey look new Google+ features!
Without warning, Google launched a massive change to profiles today that beautifies the heck out of personal and business pages alike. The most noticeable change is users now have a gargantuan cover photo. Huge. Monstrous. Colossal. Humongous. Enormous. I'm running out of adjectives to describe this. The slot is so big that when you go to a profile, the page will automatically scroll down a bit to see content. Otherwise you would see nothing but one big photo.
This is likely to be a rough transition for some as, well, it's immense. Still, Google+ has been trying (rather successfully, I might add), to position itself as photographer-friendly. While you'll still see some complete garbage come through What's Hot, it's not uncommon for some brilliant imagery to show up. The lightboxed interface for photos didn't hurt, either. This is just one more step towards catering to photogs. Oh, and there's one other audience that this new change is courting:
GIF lovers. Yes, that's right, your titanic cover photo can be an animated GIF. Google+ has always supported the moving images in posts (but not comments) before. This is just the icing on the giant cake.
The cover photo isn't even the biggest change, though! Well, okay, it's the biggest, but we've had sort-of cover photos before. Now they're just larger. The rest of the profiles, though, have been dramatically overhauled. Here, for example, is a look at what the main posts feed looked like before and after:
The new navbar has been (you guessed it) Holo-fied. Instead of going for the old depressed button style of navigation, the primary indicator of where you are is a single underline highlight. Additionally, the "View profile as:" selector is much more pronounced. Google put it on the same line as the rest of the navigation elements and made the mode you're in bright blue. With social networks making it difficult to keep track of who can see what, the folks at Mountain View are very clearly hoping to court the privacy-minded by placing as many controls as possible in the user's hands.
That might be enough for anyone's palette. Indeed, if you're not keen to explore that much, it might seem like all Google did was add cover photos, touch up the navbar and center posts. Check out the before and after on the About tab, though:
Okay. That's gorgeous. The Google+ team has clearly taken some design cues from Android. The cards interface has been adopted for the separate sections to make the page much more visually appealing. Oh, and you'll also notice a few contact methods to the right-hand side. Some of these options have been available (and are, as always, user configurable), but it's now much easier to see what methods are available for reaching a person.
Then there's the issue of filling out a profile. Most often on social networks, the process of entering the information that's most necessary is a pain. You get a page that's cluttered with boxes and you just kind of fumble around looking for the ones you like. Well, Google updated that whole process. Not only is editing individual cards a nicer experience, but they're all tied together in a single, guided box that seem to be screaming "complete all of us!"
Each one of those bubbles at the top corresponds to a card you can fill out. Work, education, places, even the new Apps section. Which, by the way, raises a bit of a security concern. The new Apps card is shown by default on your profile. This will, we assume, show anything you've logged in to with the new Google+ sign-in. Hopefully there will be ways to ensure certain apps don't appear (we're sure that most folks won't want to broadcast that they tried out the next Bang With Friends or whatever), but if you're concerned about it, you can turn this card off entirely.
What's most striking about the new facelift is how much even bland things look wonderful. Check out the Reviews tab:
I almost never write reviews of places (as you can tell by my four entries in two years), but when I pull up this section and see my old work highlighted here, it actually makes me want to do more. Which is kind of the point. The better a social network looks and feels, the more people will want to use it.
Google+ has been growing into its own lately as a service and, despite the naysayers, there are tens of millions of people on it (a reported 135 million active users in just the stream in December). Google wants to be the center of your digital life and this move today is, without a doubt, a step in that direction. It's not a mere revamp for revamp's sake, or carelessly tossing in a giant cover photo. The goal here is to take every detail you want to share with the world, make it beautiful and encourage you to share more.
The real question is how long before this cards interface comes to Google+ posts. They're the only part of the new profile that isn't in card form and, frankly, when looking at the "Share what's new..." speech bubble with its subtle gradients, instead of the smooth lines of virtually everything else, it just doesn't feel right. It's old-hat and out of place. In fact, the entire feed feels slightly less pretty after seeing the new profiles.
Ironically, this profile overhaul launch just a day before Facebook introduces a new News Feed has made me long for an update to Google's own feed. Not to say it's bad, by any means. In fact, I've loved how G+ looks. But I'm suddenly aware of how much better it could be.