At this week's Google I/O developer conference, the search giant unveiled a sleek, redesigned look for its social networking platform, Google+.
Google+, which has struggled to pry users from Facebook, focused its redesign on usability across multiple devices and added new features, including advanced photo-editing capabilities, a standalone app for Hangouts and auto-hashtagging for Google+ posts.
"These days people increasingly move between devices," says Vic Gundotra, senior vice president at Google. "So to build software that builds real relationships, you need a simple and beautiful experience across mobile and desktop. We've worked hard to make our phone and tablet apps intimate and immersive—today we're just improving them further and adapting their design for the Web."
Here's a look at the new Google+.
Google+ Adopts a Pinterest-Like Design
Google+, which has mimicked Facebook's look with a one-column stream and large cover photo, opted for a drastic change in its newest redesign: a one-, two- or three-column stream, depending on the device you're using. Its new look takes a page from image-based social network Pinterest.
Photos and videos will now fill the entire width of the stream, making it "easier to scan and nicer to look at," Google says. Its new emphasis on images is a change for the social network, which has catered to longer, text-heavy posts from its niche users.
Google has also added animations to this version of Google+. For example, the share box bounces when you post an update, the menus slide and the cards—or individual posts in your stream—flip and fade.
Google+ Auto-Hashtags Your Posts
If you're browsing Google+ and, for example, find a post related to your favorite sports team, a new auto-hashtagging feature will let you delve deeper into the topic and find related posts to read. This feature sets Google+ apart from Facebook, whose search capabilities are very limited.
When you, or anyone in your Circles, submits a post, Google will read it, determine what it's about and tag it accordingly. "Behind the scenes," Google says, "we'll also identify and rank relevant conversations across the network." When you click on the related hashtag, the post will flip and let you browse related content.
Hashtags you add will appear gray; hashtags Google adds will be in blue. While the automatic hashtagging feature is the default setting, you can remove the Google-added tags from your content on either single posts or all of them.
To remove them individually, move your cursor over the hashtag you want to remove and click the X that appears. This action is available only on posts you have written.
To prevent Google from adding hashtags to any of your posts, visit your privacy settings page, click the Google+ tab and scroll to the bottom. Under the "Hashtags" section, uncheck the box next to "Add related hashtags from Google on my newly created posts."
Google Launches Standalone Hangouts App
Google's new standalone app for Hangouts combines text, photos and live video across Android, iOS and desktop versions.
The Hangouts app supports emoticons, saves your conversation history (which you can disable) and manages notifications so once you receive and view it on one device, it will be cleared from your other Android devices and computers.
Video calls are still free using the Hangouts app, which you can download from Google Play, Apple's App Store and Chrome's Web Store.
New Photo-Editing Capabilities
Google also launched a photo-editing suite for images you upload to Google+ and store in Google Drive.
A backup feature automatically saves your mobile pictures to Drive when you take them. All users receive unlimited free storage at standard size (2048px) and 15GB of free storage at full size. Google will ask your permission to enable this feature, and you can choose to turn it off at any time.
"Auto Highlight" is a smart photo-recognition feature that helps you weed out duplicate photos, blurry images and poor exposures. Auto-enhance is a new feature that improves the brightness, contrast and saturation of photos you take. To access this, open the "lightbox" to enable the enhancements.
Last is a feature Google calls "auto-awesome," which creates a new image based on a set of photos in your library, such as a sequence of photos, and animates them. Or, you can upload a series of family portraits and Google will stitch together everyone's smiles.
What do you think about the Google+ redesign and its new features? Will you ditch Facebook in favor of it? Let us know why or why not in the comments section below.
Kristin Burnham covers consumer technology, social networking and social business for CIO.com. Follow Kristin on Twitter @kmburnham. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline and on Facebook. Email Kristin at firstname.lastname@example.org