Google has today released a new update for Google+. That's right, Google+, the search giant's big shot at Facebook, their attempt at making a bigger, smarter social network that focused on real connections and conversations.
Yes, Google+ still exists, and while it's hard to know, for sure, how many people actually use it, as of the platform's latest update last August, Google noted that more than 1.6 million people were still signing up to Google+ communities every day. That seems like a lot, but through the various audience breakdowns and analysis points, all the figures indicate that millions of people are still active on the platform. And Google likely wouldn't support the product at all if usage rates were too low.
So what additional features is Google rolling out? Here's a breakdown of the new tools.
1. Hiding Low Quality Comments
I personally don't use Google+ a lot these days, but whenever I do log in, I always have a flood of spam notifications and requests. Given Google's direct connection to search, it's not surprising that there would be a lot of scammers on there trying to work out how to use the platform to boost their search rank (spoiler: it probably won't help).
Google's now recognized this as a problem, and the first of the new Google+ updates relates to 'low quality comments' and eradicating them from your streams.
"We're making it easier to have good conversations by hiding lower quality comments on posts, so you can focus on the comments that matter most. If you'd like to see all the comments on a post, you can always click or tap "View more comments."
Comment quality has been a big focus in social of late, with both Instagram and Twitter introducing improved keyword moderation filters, and Facebook working on improving their AI detection systems to eliminate questionable material before humans ever have to see it. Google+ may not be on the same level of those platforms, but they're clearly also seeing similar problems.
This update works to fix that, while also highlighting how Google's systems are able to detect and eliminate spam content.
2. Image Zoom
As per the big Google+ refresh back in November 2015, the focus of the platform is now on Communities (as noted above) and Collections, which enables users to create groups of posts on a particular topic that can then be shared publicly or with specific sets of people. A big element of Collections is images, and image quality has become a much bigger focus for Google+, particularly with the ongoing development of Google Photos.
Along this line, Google has also announced that they're adjusting Google+ to make best use of the available screen real estate, showing less white space and more posts.
In addition, they're also adding zoom functionality to photos on Google+.
Instagram added similar functionality in September last year - Google's zoom addition, meanwhile, directly aligns with the advancing development of their image presentation capabilities.
On this, Google also has a new image compression technique called RAISR (Rapid and Accurate Image Super Resolution), which can use up to 75% less bandwidth without sacrificing image quality.
As per Google:
"Traditionally, viewing images at high resolution has also meant using lots of bandwidth, leading to slower loading speeds and higher data costs. For many folks, especially those where data is pricey or the internet is spotty, this is a significant concern."
The only catch with this is that the functionality is only available in Google+. Given this, the new G+ zoom capacity fits perfectly into this advanced image capability, and where Google is focusing with the platform.
3. Google Events
And the last addition is actually a re-introduction of an old function - Google's bringing back G+ Events.
"...beginning January 24th you'll be able to create and join events on Google+ web as you have in the past. Please note that Events will not be available for G Suite at this time."
Given the popularity of Google+ Communities, the re-introduction of Events makes sense. Google removed Events as part of the de-emphasizing of Google+, which started with the roll back of the requirement to have a G+ profile to comment on YouTube videos back in July 2015.
4. Retiring Old Web Version
Along with these new tools, Google's also announced that the classic Google+ format will be retired on January 24th.
"With this latest round of updates, we believe the new Google+ is really your Google+ - designed around your suggestions, requests and needs. It also means it's time to say goodbye to classic Google+ on the web, which we'll be turning down on January 24."
Back in November 2015, Google announced the new look Google+, with a new layout and functions.
But Google didn't make switching across to this new format compulsory - you could still log-on and use Google+ as you always had, with an option to view the platform in the new style, if you chose.
Now, that's changing - if you log onto Google+ after January 24th, you'll be on the new version.
The change is not huge, though if you haven't logged onto Google+ for a while it could be a surprise.
It's still hard to see what the true value of Google+ is, or the position it takes in the wider social media landscape. Definitely, new tools like RAISR make it more appealing, but then again that's always been the lure of Google+, that you sign up only to use other tools, not the network itself. That being the case, it's hard to see the network ever becoming more than what it currently is - and what it currently is is a set of communities, which have always thrived on Google+, and some new image enthusiasts signing on to chat.
And more than that, it's not particularly clear what Google plans to do next with the platform - though they do note that:
"Our aim is to make Google+ the best place to connect around the things you care about, so please use the "Send Feedback" link in the apps and on the web to keep the feedback coming. We're listening."
As such, Google+ remains something of a social media oddity. Cool tech tools, interesting add-on features. But in itself, not significantly valuable. It's still worth having a G+ presence because of the links to SEO, but what you'll get out of it will be defined by your own needs and interests. That said, it is worth investigating the platform's niche communities to determine it's potential value for your business.