In 2013, Google+ came into its own when it became the world's second most popular social network. That didn't stop Google however from announcing more than 41 major changes at Google I/O. These weren't small, under-the-hood changes. One, the shift from a single content column to Google Now style "cards" in two or three columns with large images that take up the entire width of the display, has totally transformed the interface.
Gallery: The brighter, more colorful Google+
Some people loved this change. Harry McCracken, noted technology journalist wrote in Time magazine, "The service, which was already pretty darn slick, is now among the most attractive and engaging web apps I’ve ever seen." The New Yorker's new technology associate editor Matt Buchanan wrote, "The mobile version of Plus, which has used cards for a few months, by contrast, feels ebullient and rich, like it was inspired by beautiful magazines, if magazines were also living, breathing entities."
So much for the adoration. Others, such as Chris Voss a social media expert and CEO of Strategix One Consulting, look at the new Google+ and see the image-oriented Pinterest social network. Not that's there's anything wrong with that. Still others find it far too busy and annoying.
Me? I found it distracting at first, but I'm getting to like it. If you can't stand it, you can shift back to a look that's something like the old interface. You do this by going to Google+ settings and scrolling down to the Accessibility radio box. There, check "Change the presentation of some pages to work better with screen readers and other assistive tools," and you'll have the new one column look. It is not, I repeat not, a real replacement for the old look.
There is, however, another problem: Google+'s fonts. As Linus Torvalds, founder of Linux and a Google+ user, put it, "This is the fuzziest font I have ever seen. Maybe it's the WOFF [Web Open Font Format] rasterizer in Chrome that could suck dead baby donkeys through a straw?" Torvalds is right. The fonts are ugly as sin. Hopefully Google will get them fixed soon.
The other major change is that Google+ Hangouts hasn't changed that much. What has changed is that it brings group video conferencing to Android and Apple iOS smartphones and tablets. That's good. But, it also replaced Google Chats, a similar Google program. That's bad, according to some annoyed Google Chat users, who didn't necessarily want their Google+ colleagues to be able to "phone" them. Fortunately, there are ways to adjust your Google+ circles to control who can "call" you.
Finally, in addition to Google+ Circles, where you select which people see which of your posts, and Google+ Communities, which are online groups set up for a specific interest, Google+ has now embraced Twitter's favorite topic organizing feature, the hashtag.
You, however, don't have to assign hashtags to a story. Google does it for you. So, for example, if I write a story about Linux, Google will automatically add a Linux hashtag to it. Users, for their part, can now browse related content by clicking on a post with a particular topic. Since it's often hard to know what hashtag to use--e.g. Linux, Ubuntu, open source?--having the system handle it for you if you don't want to do it manually is a nice feature.
At first, I found the new Google+ interface to be more distracting than useful. That said, even as I was double-checking my facts as I wrote this story I found myself liking it more and more. If you're a long-time Google+ user, I urge you to give it a chance before writing it off. If you haven't used Google+ before, it's high-time you did.