Wednesday, May 15, 2013

New Google+: Stream, Hangouts, and Photos

Technology works best when it gets out of the way, and lets people do what makes them happiest: living, learning and loving. That’s why, when we started the Google+ project nearly two years ago, we aimed to bring real-life sharing to software. We wanted to forget about tools, and focus on each other. And it seems to be working.

Consider: 190 million people are now active in the Google+ stream, and 390 million are active across Google (+1’ing apps in Google Play, making video calls in Gmail, sharing videos from YouTube...). It’s a community of artists and astronauts and computer scientists and quilters — and it’s awesome. But we’ve only just begun.

Today we’re taking another step towards real-life sharing with enhancements in three key areas: Stream, Hangouts and Photos.

Stream: modern design, multiple devices, more to explore

These days people increasingly move between devices. 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, including:

  • A multi-column layout. You’ll see one, two, or three columns of content depending on your screen size and orientation.
  • Awesome-sized media. Photos and videos can fill the entire width of the stream, making it easier to scan, and nicer to look at.
  • Delightful animations. The sharebox bounces, the menus slide, and the cards flip and fade — just to name a few.

The end result, we hope, is an app that looks and feels great across a family of devices. But that’s only part of today’s stream update. We’re also fixing a long-standing problem with feeds: they’re kinda flat.

Other sites let you scroll through stuff that’s been shared with you, but it’s nearly impossible to read more about a particular topic. You can move up and down the page (like a never-ending newspaper), but you can’t “go deeper” on your interests. We’d like to do better, so today we’re adding related hashtags to the stream. Suppose, for example, that you’re reading about your favorite sports team:

  • We’ll look at the post, determine what it’s about, and tag it accordingly (#SFGiants and #BusterPosey, in this case).
  • Behind the scenes, we’ll also identify and rank relevant conversations across the network.
  • When you click on the related hashtag, we’ll flip the card, and let you browse related content inline.

Of course: if you already tag your posts, we’ll display them in a similar fashion. And you can remove Google-added tags from your content at any time (on single posts, or on all of them). Either way, you now have a new option for exploring your interests on Google+.

Hangouts: conversations that last, with the people you love

Today’s real-time communication products make conversations difficult. Some require everyone to use the same operating system. Others support video calls, but not photo-sharing. And still others enable mobile messaging but ignore the web entirely. Patchy solutions (including our own) preclude meaningful connections online, and we aim to fix this.

Today we’re launching a stand-alone version of Hangouts that combines text, photos and live video across Android, iOS and your computer. The app is fast, free, and includes a number of key benefits, like:

  • Messaging is richer, and more responsive. Photos and emoji make conversations more fun, while real-time activity indicators really bring them to life.
  • Your conversations can last. With conversation history, you can swipe back in time and relive all your favorite moments. (You can also turn off history, if you want.)
  • No more annoying notifications. Once you see a notification on one device, we'll clear it from your other Android devices and computers. You can also snooze notifications when you don't want to be interrupted.
  • You can always say hello, face-to-face-to-face. Whether you’re 1-on-1 or with a group of friends, you can always make a free video call to everyone you're with.
  • The app is available in lots of places. You can download Hangouts from Google Play, the App Store, and the Chrome Web Store. It’s also part of Gmail and Google+.

Now that Hangouts spans modalities and devices, you can finally fuhgeddaboudit (the technology, that is), and focus on what really matters: creating lasting relationships. And that, we think, is a plus.

Photos: your darkroom is now a Google data center

Great pictures aren’t taken, they’re made. And it’s the making part that many of us don’t have time for. We'd all love to have photos that capture our vacations and birthdays and anniversaries the way we remember them. But wonderful images require lots (and lots) of work.

We think everyone should be able to make beautiful photos, so today we’re launching a set of initiatives aimed at improving your photos automatically — basically your camera, plus Google’s cloud. Here’s a few things you’ll enjoy once your pictures are powered by Google:

  • Auto Backup (aka Instant Upload). Too many pictures stay stranded on the phone, so with your permission, we’ll automatically back up your mobile pics as you snap them. Everyone receives unlimited free storage at standard size (2048px), and 15GB of free storage at full size (up from 5GB).

  • Auto Highlight. Sifting through vacation photos to assemble the perfect album can take hours. Auto Highlight helps you find your favorites faster by de-emphasizing duplicates, blurry images and poor exposures, and focusing instead on pictures with the people you care about, landmarks, and other positive attributes. Simply visit the Photos page, and you’ll see your Highlights ready to share.

  • Auto Enhance. Taking a good photo and making it great is a task generally reserved for professional photographers. That’s why, for example, we continue to support and improve tools like the Nik Collection. For everyone else we’re introducing Auto Enhance: a new way to improve brightness, contrast, saturation, structure, noise, focus... and dozens of other factors automatically. Simply upload some photos, then open the lightbox to see Google's enhancements. And that’s it. (And of course: you can undo the changes at any time.) Here’s some sample images to get you started.

  • Auto Awesome. Sometimes we’ll create a brand new image based on a set of photos in your library. For example: if you upload a sequence of photos, we’ll try and animate them automatically. Or if you send us a few family portraits, we’ll find everyone’s best smile, and stitch them together into a single shot. Likewise with panoramas, filmstrips, and a whole lot more. We call these kinds of enhancements Auto Awesome.

Now that you know what’s new with Google+ (rolling out over the next week), we’ll get out of your way and let you spend time with whomever or whatever makes you happiest. After all: if we're bringing you closer to the people, places and things you absolutely love, then we're building the right product. #googlepluslove

Posted by +Vic Gundotra, Senior Vice President

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