24.11.2015 Google has shaken up Google+

Google+ has changed a lot this year; many of the social network’s unique features have been removed and developed as standalone services, which have been received much more favourably as a result. Google Photos, now rid of its Google+ association, is thriving, with as many active users as Snapchat. Google+ has also been distanced from YouTube, which was a very popular move with users who no longer had to put up with the service reposting all their YouTube comments.

 Toxic Brand?

Since its launch in 2011, Google+ has found itself as the butt of a considerable number of online jokes, seen as a weak response to the Facebook revolution and characterised as the Internet Explorer of the social media world.

It is difficult to pinpoint what exactly turned Google+ into such a toxic brand. Perhaps it is due to its perceived complexities – it initially struggled to function as a hub for all of Google’s products. Alternatively, it could be because 2.5 billion Gmail and YouTube users had accounts automatically allocated to them, without having first established any personal investment in the brand. Or possibly it is because Facebook had already sewn up the market for uniting and making friends online.

Google+ poster(Photo, May 2015: Stone Temple Consulting)

Relaunch

After months of rumours that Google+ would be scrapped altogether, on 18 November Google finally unveiled a new, stripped back version of the service. The all new Google+ has a far more mobile-friendly interface and builds on the elements of the social network that active users were engaging with the most, mainly surrounding ‘Communities’ and ‘Collections’.

Communities is a genuinely engaging user experience, with a huge amount of content to explore; it is undoubtedly the best element of Google+. This feature allows users to gather together to discuss topics covering nearly every interest you can think of, from horticulture to Hollyoaks and an overwhelming variety of musical genres – no topic is too broad or too obscure.

This change in focus gives the impression that Google+ is no longer interested in taking on Facebook, but instead would like to act as a competitor to Pinterest. Its picture-led posts have a greater emphasis on their accompanying written content, encouraging a greater level of discussion than Pinterest. This makes it a more appropriate platform for a greater number of subjects. Communitiessucceeds in being more attractive and usable than other interest-based social network sites, with a far more inclusive “community” nature.

Google+

Google+1

Collections are essentially blogs with a social media feel, making them more likely to be shared and engaged with by users. Unlike Communities the feeds are compiled by individuals and are more text focused, with accompanying pictures. Users can follow a member’s posts about a specific subject without receiving that person’s posts on other topics.

Below is a Collection on artefacts, which has built an impressive 10,796 followers. It perfectly sums up the new purpose of Google+; it is focused on building large groups of people to discuss things that interest them. It does not matter that a relatively small number of people are passionate about ancient artefacts as all those who are will be able to find people to follow and talk to on Google+.

Artefacts

While the Google+ user base is still relatively small (5 million users who post at least 5 times a month) it is certainly big enough to fill the site with a range of interesting content, which could potentially attract a broader range of users. Being a social media network specialising in users’ interests could be seen as less ambitious than the original all-encompassing Google+. It certainly represents a shift change in focus for Google in terms of its social network brand, and we’ll be watching this rejigged space with interest.