The New Google and Google+

On June the 28th some lucky ones—including me—may have noticed a small tweak in Google’s homepage and most of its services save Gmail. And on Wednesday, this trial feature was formally launched for a larger groups, but still a limited one, of users around the world. Perhaps the most noticeable of these—at least the one that caught my eye—was the black bar at the very top of the page.

“We’re working on a project to bring you a new and improved Google experience, and over the next few months, you’ll continue to see more updates to our look and feel,” said Google’s digital creative director, Chris Wiggins.

Before I explain what Google hopes to achieve from this new look, let’s take a look at Google back in ‘97:

Charmed?

The main difference is that the colourful Google logo has been reduced in size, the search box has been made more prominent and two sets of links have been moved to the top and bottom of the page giving your browser what Wiggins described as a cleaner look.

While this goes quite the extent in making an already minimalist, clean page unnecessarily cleaner, the changes in other parts of Google do have an underlying utilitarian face to them. Wiggins describes these broadly as focus, elasticity and effortlessness.

Focus is perhaps what ought to be—and rightly is—on top of Google’s priority. No matter what they are doing on any of their services, the user’s concentration must effortlessly be able to put its entire self to what it is doing at present.

This shall be achieved in the coming weeks and months over which this gradual alteration shall be made to the users’ comfort by the use of bolder colours for actionable buttons and the possible automated hiding of anything the user will not need, such as the navigation buttons—which will of course re-appear when we do need them. This way the browser area in use will remain uncluttered.

Elasticity is Google’s attempt at fitting their services into all modern forms of technology, not merely the desktop computer or which it was originally intended, as though Google was built natively for that device. It makes one wonder if they forgot they were the ones who created Android in the first place.

The idea is that with the internet slowly becoming accessible from more locations and devices than one, Google should be moulded uniquely to best fit each of these—a tailor-made Google service for every possible alternative to the old desktop.

In fact this brings to my mind a key aspect discussed in Michio Kaku’s latest book Physics of the Future (which I only recently started reading!) where he says we will, in the near future—perhaps by 2030, be able to access the internet from everywhere—our spectacles, clothes, furniture, even our wallpaper. If this is indeed the case—and it looks most likely so—then Google seems to be the one taking the very first steps towards such an elasticity.

Effortlessness is the last of Google’s focii in its make over. How many of us actually put in effort when working on Google? And yet Wiggins explanation seeks to give us just this image.

He says it is Google’s web designing philosophy to combine power with simplicity. We want to keep our look simple and clean, but… use new technologies like HTML5, WebGL and the latest, fastest browsers to make sure you have all the power of the web behind you.

Alongside this, and an experimental feature I have not had the privilege of being included in (though my name still stands on the list of users for the forthcoming inclusion,) is Google’s take at providing internet users a structured social experience via what they call Google+.

Read Google Plus, this is basically a combination of five tools: circles, sparks, hangout, instant upload and huddle.

While it does, arguably, appear like a re-make of most existing services with Google’s signature on them, it seems that their real intention is that, through Google+, real-life sharing has been, in their own words, re-thought for the Web.

In Circles, Google’s version of a contact-storage system, you can group your contacts into suitable groups—what they probably call circles—and chose which group to conveniently share stuff with.

Sparks, like the Zite app, allows Google to monitor the kind of information you share with your contacts and streamline search results to suit your needs better.

In Hangouts, rather than trying to track down people on FaceTime, Skype and Fring, Hangouts lets you tell your friends or “Circles” where you are hanging out and invites them over to hang out with video chat. This will help people in your circles who are now far away to connect in a virtual pool and bring all camaraderie to a virtual conference—another instance straight out of Kaku’s book.

“The way people use and experience the Web is evolving, and our goal is to give you a more seamless and consistent online experience — one that works no matter which Google product you’re using or what device you’re using it on.”

Chris Wiggins

Instant Upload is Google’s take on the concept first introduced by Apple’s iOS5 and iCloud. The idea is nothing different: pictures, say, that you click, will instantly get uploaded to a virtual cloud from where you can chose to do whatever is wise with them, like share it with a circle, perhaps?

The last one, Huddle in my opinion, is the only new concept Google has managed to introduce in this bunch. Presently, there is a large wall separating iPhone, BlackBerry and Android users. In spite of Android users making up the largest chunk of the three, there is no way for users of any of these platforms to communicate or chat with the users of any other platform. Huddle closes this gap by introducing its Google+ App for iPhone through which iPhone and Android users can chat cross-OS without the need for an external agent like a chat room or, say, an online application like Google Talk or Yahoo! Chat.

So much for Google+, which, in my opinion, will go on to get the bigger of the two receptions, mostly because the other, updated-design-feature is all too subtle for the daily I-don’t-care-what-your-website-looks-like set of internet users who claim to be around only because content (still) is king.

Very well Mr Wiggins, the world is prepared for the new Google—and I am quite sure three-quarters of the world will not give a damn as to what colour your top bar is, and then again, there is the small lot of us to whom it does make a difference.

My own idea is (and hopefully Google will agree) that even if users do not actually notice the new, black top bar, let alone blog or debate about it, the overall, subtle changes—and the ease and economical use of Google’s services—is something they are sure to notice in the days (or should I say months?) to come. Welcome, new Google!

What do you think of this? A milestone turn in Web 2.0, or another disappointment?