It’s been over two years since Google had last given its social network Google+ an overhaul and yesterday it happened again with a big announcement… this time, it’s thankfully not a forced switchover, but only an option to try it out and come back to the old layout – so far. This is very good, because there are still a lot of things missing and broken in the new layout, some of which actually may render everything completely unuseable for some people. Like me, unfortunately… although I actually like the new visual style because it is basically an expanded version of what the mobile site has been looking like for some time. The new site centers heavily around Collections and Communities, which is fine… but most everything else has been either removed or put into external services, which is in some parts very problematic. Here are some observations.
• The “hamburger” menu brings a proper sidebar and makes navigation actually easier, which is a big advantage.
• The layout of the post “cards” has only slightly changed. The preview images are now unfortunately smaller and they don’t dynamically resize anymore. Inline commenting directly in the stream has been replaced with a popup of the card, but getting to the comment field just requires one click as before.
• The new photo viewer does not support fullscreen viewing and zooming anymore and does not seem to display view counts. This is very disappointing especially for photographers on Google+. The old image viewer needs to be reinstated! There is also no way to post a photo by selecting from your albums – only a full stream of all your photos is displayed and you are not able to directly upload into an album anymore. This is not much of an issue because direct photo sharing from Google Photos works much better now.
• The profile page has been extensively renovated with your top collections appearing before the posts – there are no tabs anymore and the ‘about’ page now redirects to the new aboutme.google.com page. This is not a big problem except for the missing Photos tab, which means users do not have access to your publicly shared albums except through the posts they have been shared in. The best workaround would be to share the albums you want to display to users in a collection.
• The Android app has been updated with the new design today (Nov. 19) too – note that you can still use the old version and even roll back if you have a backup of the APK. The App works much better than the mobile site and brings back the left sidebar in which you can choose your circles if you switch on that option in the settings. There is a problem that causes the grey icon bar on the bottom not to scroll off in main stream and circle views, but this has been confirmed as a bug and will be fixed. Unfortunately Events have been removed here too, so updating is not recommended at this time.
Here’s where it gets really problematic:
• Your Circles are not even displayed anymore until you go into the G+ settings and activate “Enable circle stream in navigation”. And then only the SIX TOP CIRCLES are listed in the sidebar under “Circle Streams” in a drop-down menu. There is no way to reorder circles anymore on the “People” tab, too. I can only imagine that this is a bug… but if it isn’t, it’s a terrible problem for everyone with a lot of circles. [Update 19.11.: I believe that this is a bug in the desktop web interface! The new Android app has the same list but it displays all your circles in the drop-down menu.] [Update 27.11.: CIRCLES ARE BACK! You can now access ALL your circles in the sidebar again on the web interface – very good news!]
• Event pages are nowhere to be seen. Re-shared event pages are not even shown properly anymore with the image preview missing. The help pages even say that creating events does not work on the new pages, only in the Android app (??). If this is an attempt of phasing out event pages, all producers of Hangouts on Air like CosmoQuest and Universe Today are going to get in huge trouble if the “classic” website is permanently switched off. Event pages should be either reinstated or ported over to Hangouts somehow! [Update 21.11.: Event pages have now been reinstated in the last Android app update!]
Sadly, the last two points are absolute deal-breakers for a lot of people on Google+ and there have to be a lot of other improvements before this new version of Google+ completely replaces the old one. Thankfully, Google has learned from the past and is now introducing the new layout slowly with an option to go back to the old one… but for how long? Hopefully the worst mistakes will be fixed until then. [Update 27.11.: Many bugs have been fixed, Circles are now fully available in both mobile app and web interface – only the event pages have to be reinstated now!]