How to Thrive on the Totally Transformed Google+

Over the past year, Google has completely transformed what Google+ is, who it’s for and how it works. With the redesign, they have affected the best tactics for leveraging the social network for professional networking and personal development.

For the first four years of its existence, Google+ tried to be an all-purpose social network, content discovery engine, communications tool, photo management and editing site, and much more.

Now Google has completely changed what Google+ is all about. And the transformation opens up a new opportunity because Google+ is a new social network, again.

What does this mean? First, let’s review how Google transformed Google+ into the opposite of what it used to be. Then, I’ll tell you how to leverage the new Google+ for building professional knowledge, contacts and fans.

How Google+ Transformed Itself

Google+ launched in June of 2011 as the “everything” social network. It was supposed to be everything Facebook was and a lot more. In its first year or two, Google+ had full social networking functionality, a news discovery feature called Sparks, an innovative multi-user video chat feature, an extensive photo management and editing system, a host of games and even a data visualization tool called Ripples, which shows the viral spread of Google+ posts. Google’s cloud email service, Gmail, was fully integrated as well.

Google’s signature feature was called “Circles,” a way to categorize the people you follow. So you could have created Circles called “Family,” or “Friends,” or “People I’ve met but barely remember”— whatever you wanted to call them. The organizing principle was not topics of conversation, but how they related to you.

Over the next few years, multiple Google services were integrated in one way or another into Google+. A “Hangouts On Air” feature, which enabled live streaming video years before the likes of Meerkat and Periscope, automatically posted on YouTube as well. Later, Google+ was required for anyone who even wanted to post a comment on YouTube. Google+ also became the login for Google Play.

Google even bought the Zagat restaurant guides and integrated that information into both Maps and Google+.

Businesses could create ads that were also Google+ posts. Those ads could appear on any site. But when you clicked on the ad, the Google+ post version of the ad telescoped to full size, and viewers could post comments and generally interact with the ad as if it were a Google+ post. 

Google also added a feature called Communities, which was Reddit-like in purpose, but looked and felt completely different. The idea is that anyone could create a community, which could be open or closed, and that any member could post items to the community for all to comment on.

These and many other integrations revealed Google’s intention at the time to make Google+ far bigger than just a social network.

However, about a year ago, Google started executing on a strategy that would make Google+ the opposite of what it had originally been.

First of all, this year, Google added a feature called Collections, which enables users to categorize their posts. Followers could either continue to get everything posted from each person they posted to, or they could opt out of these Collections or categories. For example, someone may like my “Technology” Collection, but choose to opt out of my “Food and Drink” Collection.

Instead of being far more than a social network, Google+ would instead focus on being far less. The company spun out Hangouts and Photos into separate products. Requirements to use Google+ for identity for other Google services were relaxed (and the “real names” policy cancelled).

Communities and Collections Replace Circles

Last week we saw the final transformation: Google completely redesigned Google+ to de-emphasize Circles and instead focus on Communities and Collections.

Google’s reason for this was that after trying to make Google+ a feature-packed, more-than-a-social-network site, it realized that Google+ users mainly enjoyed posts and conversations about passions and enthusiasms—some of which were very broad, while others were very narrow or obscure.

The old Google+ was great for the super-fans, but, for the majority of potential users, there were too many barriers in the way: too many features and, as a result, too much difficulty in finding those features and figuring out how to use them. The interface was complicated, bloated and confusing.

The new Google+ is streamlined. Features that are not related to sharing an interest with others have been stripped out or mostly hidden. It’s now very clear what Google+ is all about.