Google+ and Facebook: New looks, features give control back to users

Social networks are adapting with new looks and new features that visually appealing and user friendly.
Written by Sam Diaz, Inactive

Full confession: I actually like the look of Facebook's new Timeline layout and am anxious to see what the company does with the look of the News Feed and other streams once everyone rolls over to Timeline. I read in a blog or Facebook comment the other day that Facebook Timeline actually makes the page like more like a personal blog and the general feeling was that that was a good thing.

You see, unlike other changes that Facebook has rolled out in the past, the changes that arrived with Timeline offer a feeling that Facebook really took the time to think about how users might want their pages to look, instead of how Facebook wanted them to look.

This is why I'm particularly intrigued with the updates to Google Plus that were announced this morning.

The Notifications system up in the top right corner was already pretty user friendly, but it's the little tweaks here and there makes it that much better. You could already read and post comments, add people to circles and +1 something without leaving the stream. Now, you get a "sneak preview" of the content behind that notification within the notifications window, eliminating a click. What makes it extra nice is that it's something I didn't really even know I wanted.

The new look to the Photo Lightbox is focused around the user experience, too. It not only makes the image itself the center of the page but also introduces an in-experience way to tag people with a circle - of course - around faces. In a group photo, it's a pretty effective way to highlighting who's who, instead of relying on a name to pop up when you hover over a large area of a picture.

Finally, a new slider bar to adjust the frequency of a stream in the daily news feed is pretty nice in the sense that it gives users more control over the type of content that dominates the main feed.

I'd like to see that expanded to more than just "Never, Less, More and Always" types of choices eventually but it's a good start.

And that's what important to remember here. Facebook may send a few ripples through the its network as it converts everyone to Timeline because it tends to happen in one extreme sudden movement. This time around, Facebook got a jump start by allowing people to opt-in first and giving them time to do some housekeeping, explore the new look and adjust their privacy settings before publishing the Timeline for the world to see.

Unfortunately, it was a pretty short window of time at it came at an already frenzied time of the year. For that, Facebook will likely encounter some backlash when the big switch begins later this week. Once people get over it, they'll learn to accept it and embrace it just as they have every other major change.

Google, on the other hand, will continue to just roll out minor changes here and there - like it always does - without a major update. And people will just adapt to the new way, just like I'm not going to miss that extra click in the Notifications window within Google+.

As long as these changes don't make things harder for me, I'm fine with them.

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