Google+ updates aim to breathe new life into ailing social network

Google+ updates aim to breathe new life into ailing social network

Google whittled down its Google+ platform to the bone as part of a new redesign that highlights groups and topics. But does the latest batch of changes represent a new beginning for the struggling social network, or the beginning of the end?

Companies that build social networks do not have an infinite number of chances to get things right before users lose interest and flee. Google likely ran out of time to achieve its original goal with Google+ (to become the end-all, be-all social network), but the company this week made a significant move to salvage what remains of its once grandiose vision for social. 

Google+ has been redesigned, or "reimagined" as the company puts it, to focus on the four-year-old social network's strengths. Communities, Google's new take on its former Groups feature, and Collections, the platform's new format for organizing posts by topic, are now the most prominent elements of Google+. 

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An average of 1.2 million users join new Communities each day, according to Google, and Collections is growing even faster. Google has slowly retreated from its grand social experiment for years, but the fate of Google+ became even less clear last summer when the company formally abandoned its strategy to shoehorn the platform into other major Google products.

Today's Google+ a shadow of its former self

Google's Photos, Hangouts chat and other features that were once core to Google+ were stripped out and released as standalone products. The remaining pieces of Google+, along with this latest redesign, suggest Google is no longer interested in building an all-inclusive social platform.

Forrester Research analyst Erna Alfred-Liousas says there are no longer very many social networks designed for specific activities or pursuits. "If Google+ is going to be reinvigorated, focusing on what people enjoy is a good start," she says. "This isn't about competition right now. It is about making sure what they're offering is actually what people want." 

Google streamlined the service to focus on what it does best, with a new design that aims to deliver a consistent experience across desktop, Android and iOS devices. You can opt-in to the preview of the new Google+ on the Web today by clicking the "Let's go" prompt the next time they log in. Google says updated apps for Android and iOS will be released in the coming days. 

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Google+ may be on the ropes, but Alfred-Liousas doesn't think the platform is down for the count. "Though [Google's] first foray into social provided less than stellar results, there are learnings for them," Alfred-Liousas says. "They now have a better understanding of what is necessary to maintain the audience it developed, as well as potentially attract new people."

While Google is positioning these latest changes as a new beginning, it will have to battle a growing market perception that the company missed its window to regain lost momentum.

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