If it wasn’t clear before this week, it should now be apparent that the battle between Google and Facebook is about the future of the web as we know it. Both of these companies are vying for the attention span of users across the globe. Facebook and Google both want one thing above all else, and that is for you to be using their services all day, every day. The more you are tied into their tools, the more data they can collect, and the more ads they can deliver. At the end of the day, that means being able to provide users with the best social experience. While Google+ is certainly making headway, this is still and are in which Facebook is king. However, in an attempt to shift the scales once more, Google has released a massive user interface update to Google+, which is rolling out to users worldwide right now.Google’s push into the social space has been fairly successful so far. By integrating Google+ into all of their existing products, the search giant was able to announce today that there are over 170 million accounts on G+. (There’s no accurate metrics as to how many of those users are active.) Unlike Facebook, Google+ relies on a user’s ability to find other people with common interests and socialize with them. Facebook, on the other hand, relies on the information you provide them to find other users with which you share a past connection, typically through school or work.Typically, huge user interface overhauls are met with mixed emotions. Users who don’t like change versus users who embrace anything new muddy the general opinion of major changes, but like it or not change has come to Google+. And it’s a different tact for Google+, which has been continually evolving from day one, improving the experience with new or modified features nearly every week.Google has taken their social network and stretched it out a bit, moving a few things around to create a more streamlined look and feel. The chat tool has been moved to the far right, allowing the list of active instant messenger users go all the way down this side of the page. This is a huge improvement for anyone who has more that fifteen users on their list, which was a previous limitation of the chat implementation.The information in your stream still occupies the majority of the interface, only now every post has been placed in its own little container. Each post feels much cleaner, right down to the compact view of the comments for each post. A single comment is shown, unless you expand the comment field to see more of them. Above your stream are tabs for quick access to posts that are only in specific circles, allowing you to break up your stream and quickly access the information being displayed inside those circles. Finally, the navigation panel on the left hand side is adjustable based on your preference.If you play a lot of Google+ games, or if you prefer Hangouts and Photos at the top of your navigation bar, it is quick and easy to change it to suit your experience.Personal profiles received a big style update as well. Aside from your avatar photo, there’s not a space for a Timeline-esque top photo. Users who stumble upon your profile will have a separate navigation for your posts, profile, and photos as usual, but will now also have access to things you have +1’d. The profile view now also includes information such as how many people are in that users circles, and how many users have circled them back. At the top of the profile view there is a small email icon, which ties into the already existing email feature to Google+ that hides the users email address but still allows you to contact them. All of the information in the profile view is tucked neatly inside the same box that contains your stream information on you homepage, keeping this navigational box Google has built around your content intact.Finally, there is a dedicated page for discovering Hangouts that are already in progress. The Hangouts tab in the navigation panel will let you see public Hangouts that are currently active, as well as users who are in private hangouts but have opened the hangout to a circle that you are in. This is by far the loudest complaint heard by users who are interested in trying Hangouts, but aren’t necessarily comfortable starting one of their own. Being able to see active Hangouts means that the users can hop in as they please and enjoy the social experience, without having to catch the invitation to the Hangout in their stream. More people using Hangouts means more people using Google+, so everyone wins.Google has performed a serious operation, by changing nearly every facet of the user interface. While it is obvious that this update has been in the works for some time, the delivery of this update only a day after Facebook announced the acquisition of Instagram can’t be a coincidence. Unfortunately, user interface improvements are really great for keeping your existing users, but Google needs to now focus on gaining new users. I can’t remember ever seeing a commercial for Facebook on television, but I typically see one for Google+ every couple of days. As social networks go, Google+ is my favorite for extended conversations with people, and the Hangouts system has proven time and again to be an invaluable resource.
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