Wednesday, 18 November 2015

The new G+, well it's red now...

Well, it's here. The new G+. I want to love it, but the truth is that I don't. It's not polished. It's not ready. The User Interface (UI) is smooth and pretty and is the epitomy of material design, but the User Experience (UX) doesn't live up to the shiny face. But that's ok! Why? This is an early experience, a community preview if you like of what is to come.

These are likely to be some frequently asked questions:

Why can't I see the opt in yet?
The update is rolling out very slowly across the world. Be patient it will come.

Why is the release being previewed given it has some shortcomings?

This release is a foundational effort. It's not the final release by a long shot. What we're seeing is a preview.

Why can you switch back and forth at will between Classic and New?

You can jump back and forth between the Classic and New versions easily without losing your context so that your experience is not hurt by missing functionality.

Why are Google making these changes to Google Plus? I notice that the User Experience (UX) is very similar across the Android device app and desktop now?

This is one of the key foundation stones of this release. Getting a consistent experience across web, Android and iOS for the first time in Google+! This really matters, for users who are using multiple devices and screen sizes like me. I use it across different desktops, browsers, a android phone and several tablets.

I've noticed that the new User Interface (UI) is simpler and cleaner? This is a massive change, why the shift?

Speed of rendering on the web is the main reason this is a completely new codebase, slimmer and faster, and the load and run times are so much quicker. This will have a substantial positive impact on those running slower machines, with low bandwidth connections and expensive mobile data plans like most Aussies.

Where is Google Plus Going?

I feel its about simplifying and focusing the experience, it's still about your interests, sharing and celebrating them, it's about Collections and Communities more than ever. As a Google Plus user since the public beginning it actually pleases me no end that Google are making forward statements about Google Plus. Every single day there are the nay sayers who imply the Plus is short lived and won't last. This is a significant investment by Google and bodes well for the platform's future. For myself my Plus is almost an extension of me, it's a place where I connect socially with my real friends, where I mentor and help people learn photography, and where I can gallery my work and enjoy the responses I get (both positive and negative - they help me learn).

The Elephant In The Room

A lot of the changes are good, but there is an elephant standing in the corner. You probably are not going to like all of it and I'm going to talk about the things I don't like first, because I feel they will be common dislikes and it's important to know there is a future while understanding what the pitfalls of the New version are. Remember Google really do want your feedback. Put your thoughts into it and give feedback via the desktop and app functionality.


Oh and where did my other column go? Why are we back to two no matter how wide the screen? Is this 2005? Bring on responsive! You had it before Google! Please!

Common Functions are Click Buried

Common functions like commenting on a post; and replying to a comment are click buried under a menu or simply gone! You have to open a post to interact with it. At least you can plus a post without opening it. I fear that this is the death of interaction, it's only one extra click you say, well, no it's actually two and that's too many in a modern web.

Let's step through commenting on someone else's post. First we see the post arrive in our stream on the Landing Page. It looks remarkably like it did before but now it's got red bits. Here's one from +Tobias Sargeant a photographer I follow. I love the image, it's of a place I find very photogenic and have experienced personally so I want to comment. In classic I just had to put my cursor in the existing comment box and start typing, well not anymore.

The first thing you see is that the comment pane is missing. What? Well, actually it hasn't got any comments yet. That's ok. When it does get some, they will roll through the space of a single comment like a continuous ticker. That is kind of cool. Makes the landing page change so you keep watching.

Ok, so now I've seen it I want to comment. Let's click on that comment icon to the bottom right of the post, that'll open up the usual comment pane won't it?

The comment pane has opened up on clicking the comment icon after some time. It seems to take between half and one second for me. I've tried it in Chrome, Edge, IE. All the same.

This experience isn't a disaster, but it's certainly different. Before you simply dropped in the cursor and started to type. Now you have to click the comment icon, at least your cursor does end up in the comment field. Burying the comment under an icon will reduce comments, it's the same number of clicks, but you have to click and wait. Remember in Classic? You just jumped into the field and started to type. It was right there in your face and encouraged you to interact. I reckon how it's done now is going to get plenty of plusses on posts but less engagement through comments. At least the share button came back.

Here is the next difference, in classic to reply to a post you just put your cursor over it and hit the Reply link that appeared.

That was intuitive and simple. Now you have to hover and click the elipses to reveal the pop out menu...

Here's a post in the New with comments, see that little panel at the bottom of the post, all of the comments cycle through that on a ticker. To see them all, or to reply to the one I can see right now I have to click on the post to open it.

Now the post is open and I have to admit it looks nice and clean and the individual comments are easy to read. What if I want to reply to one of them? Granted I'd mostly do this on my own posts so apologies to +D Jones for using his post in this example.

Well first I have to hover over the comment with my pointer to reveal the elipses

See the three little dots to the right of the comment? Well, no I don't blame you they're hard to see... but we'll get used to that. This ellipses is a control that reveals a pop up menu to let me plus or reply to a comment...

Wait! What? No Reply! I can +1 the comment (now two clicks, Classic was one) or I can report it. Where is Reply? I love Reply. It's the only way to plus mention people in a lot of circumstances. So engagement blown. It's now hard to reply so will I? Often, no I probably won't because now I have to manually plus mention the person. If they don't allow people outside their circles to notify them then you can't plus mention them the manual way, reply got around this. I really really hate this I want to be able to reply. One of the main differences between my experience with Evil Blue and Big Red here has been engagement. It is so easy to reply to a comment you're encouraged to do so. I hope this one comes back.

Weirdly this isn't consistent because Reply is still there when you're looking at a post in the notification pane.

For now you can switch back to Classic.

Posting Into Albums Is Gone

You won't see this anymore! You can no longer post images to existing albums, in fact you can't add images to albums at all. There is a work around, you do it in Picasa then share to g+ - but why oh Google do you take away functionality we already have? I really hope this just hasn't been done yet. Please be so.

Ok, enough whinging, on to the things I actually do love.


The presentation for collections with the collection leader down the left hand side of the page and the collection content in two columns is actually fantastic. It is also quite easy to find and follow new collections.

Now this layout is really cool, but the operation is clunky. I sometimes see images rotate themselves and appear sideways. Sometimes they scroll weirdly or draw four or five times. This is stuff that needs polish but the idea and form are good. BUT, don't you use your back button - when you get back to the collection of collections screen most of the time nothing is clickable anymore quite often. Not always, but often. Using the collections link always seems to work.

Circle Streams

These are quite cool, but are they much different to viewing the posts from a circle in Classic? No the functionality is about the same but the way you get there is much more intuitive and works better.

These are exactly what the name suggests they are the combined streams of the people in your circles. In the G+ early days these were front and foremost and useful but they got relegated deeper and deeper. 

They've finally come back.

One big ask Google - bring back the Nearby Stream from days of old. That was the best way to find and interact with people who were physically near you without being creepy and searching them out. Nearby Streams was how the Melbourne Photowalkers community began. It's how we found each other.

You'll not only some of your circles appear here. You can configure the circles that are most important to you by ordering them on the people screen which influences what appears here.

New Profile View

I really like the layout for the new profile screen it tells you a lot about what that person has to offer and your existing relationship to you.

Same Experience No Matter What Platform

Those of you who use mobile devices will have noticed that the new G+ looks and behaves remarkably like the Android App. That's deliberate, and I can appreciate the consistency.

There is a BUT though... The App has the user experience it does because of the limitations of touch devices. Why make it ubiquitous - it's certainly cheaper because you have a single HTML5/JS codebase for all your platforms, browser, container and app. BUT why limit the UX of the users on a more capable platform? Why oh why don't we learn from the failure of Windows 8? They tried the same thing and look what happened. The menu came back (mostly) in Windows 10. They gave up. Tiles are relegated to the background on desktop. I'm hoping for big things here, after all this is a foundation not a final end goal.

Why The Change?

My gut feel is that Google have grown tired of the G+ that is just drifting along. They want to grow or kill like they do with all their products. Drifting products no matter how popular go away at Google. They only want expansion and growth of data and influence. They want our information and metadata. You didn't really think G+ was free did you? They take a bit more of you every time you use it. I understand and accept this price. I'm cool with it. In fact I actually like the targeted advertising that results because it is less spammy. G+ has got plenty of users, it's been quite phenomenal but it's never caught up with Evil Blue which is always taunting G+ from the distance down the road. Can G+ ever catch up? Maybe, but it will take big changes to do it. It's always harder to be the underdog and while the platform is huge, every day there is a new social network snapping at it's heels.