Google+ gets a facelift, but does anyone care?

Google Plus

Earlier this week, Google+ launched a new design meant to be "more functional and flexible" than previous versions, and appears to be a move to further cement them as a competitor to both Facebook and Twitter.

As with any redesign of a major platform, there's dissension among the community. The majority of the naysayers are focusing on the layout of the content area, which skews heavily to the left and leaves a large area of whitespace on the right side of the screen for those using large desktop monitors (bigger than your laptop, say). The new design hews closer to Twitter than Facebook (or, at least a mirror-universe version of twitter), but the left-aligned content lacks the responsiveness of the centered design used by many of Google's rivals. As someone who works and visits Google+ on a big monitor, this empty whitespace becomes so large and barren that even the polar ice caps are jealous. Leo Laporte, a popular tech personality, was quick to post an example of this change in the design:

social media services

This space is used somewhat effectively if users have a chat window or two open, with the conversations floating in this unused space rather than over top of the stream, but generally it seems wasteful and against the best practices of responsive web design. For those annoyed by the big hole in their screen, there's already a Chrome browser plugin to patch the boat.

Another Google+ user, Isriya Paireepairit, also posted an amusing screenshot that examines the wasted screen real estate (even when viewed in smaller browser windows):

social media optimization

I wouldn't go so far as to say that those highlighted areas are entirely "wasted," after all the chat window and the status update field are integral to how Google+ works, but the image does illustrate just how little of the new design is actually dedicated to the dynamic content that, ultimately, determines the value of Google+ to its users.

Putting my design-pundit personality to the side, I'm don't actually dislike the new design, at least compared to the old one, which I found difficult to navigate, which was one of the reasons that I've never embraced Google+ (the other reason being, well, Facebook…). This new design removes some of the clutter and utilizes negative space well (except that gaping hole between the stream and the chat window, of course), making it easier to focus on the actual information and discussion being shared by friends. It's very pretty to look at, as long as I keep my browser window below a certain size.

I'd be remiss not to mention the performance of Google+. Everything from browsing photos to following quick-moving conversations in the stream to viewing user profiles is silky smooth and easier to do than before. Nothing frustrates me more than a laggy, unintuitive UI, but the new Google+, like almost all of Google's products, gets a big thumbs up in this regard.

This all beggars a question, though. We've all pondered falling trees in lonely forests, but if a social network redesigns its interface and there's no one around to care about it, does it make a difference? My Google+ stream was dead yesterday, abuzz today with complaints, but what will tomorrow bring?

Aidan Moher
By Aidan Moher
Web Designer
April 12th, 2012
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