Google+ gets a facelift

Tweaks to its social platform's design show that competition with Facebook is driving Google

Google+ began rolling out a redesign on Wednesday that it hopes will make the social platform "easier to use and nicer to look at," according to a blog post.

The changes allow users to customize their main navigational menu, which now appears, like Facebook's, along the left side of the landing page. A "Hangout" icon in the revamped menu takes users to a list of promoted video chats that users can watch, as well as open chats they can join. Google often points to Hangouts as a strength of its social network, which it says now has 170 million members, compared to Facebook's roughly 850 million.

Additionally, photos now appear "full bleed," without borders or white space, in the Google+ content stream, and profile photos can come in a wider range of sizes and layouts.

The changes to how the platform handles photos "reflected a recurring request that we heard from profile owners and brands that they wanted more area of the profile dedicated to unique imagery that would help them stand out," a Google spokeswoman said in an email.

The upgrades come on the heels of competitor Facebook's move to display higher-resolution photos and to allow full-screen viewing of pictures. Facebook's ongoing focus on photography also reportedly drove its purchase this week of app-maker Instagram.

The new Google+ landing page also includes a "Trending on Google+" panel, which mimics the popular Twitter feature. Shortly after Google announced the changes, "#newgoogleplus" was trending, and one user said the new feature "will make Twitter take an early retirement." Another remarked, "OK, they copied in a sense, so what?"

The most common complaint among users posting about the changes on Wednesday was that the new design left too much white space on the right-hand side of the screen, particularly for users with large monitors.

Google says all users will have the new layout within "the next few days."

Cameron Scott covers search, web services and privacy for The IDG News Service. Follow Cameron on Twitter at CScott_IDG.

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