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Google+ Refresh New Stream, Unified Hangouts App, and Enhanced Google+ Photos

Google+, which currently has 190 million people 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…)–today refreshes with 41 new features in three key areas: Stream, Hangouts and Photos.

First noticeable changes, is the redesigned “Stream,” which is now given a multi-column design that lets you scan items quicker, rather than scrolling endlessly for something to interact with.

Vic Gundotra, points out that this new approach to “feeds” will bring more attention to content “We’re fixing a longstanding problem with these feeds, they’re flat. Other sites let you scroll through posts that have been shared with you. You can’t go through and read on more topics. You can’t go deeper on an interest on topic,” he said.

  • 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.

New three-column Google+ Streams

Google also added “related hashtags” to the stream to give new option for exploring your interests on Google+. When you click the hashtag, the “card” will flip around to help you discover similar content.

An example of this automatic categorization is the picture of the Eiffel Tower. Gundotra explained that even though there was no text within the post that stated the origin of the photo, Google was able to figure out what it was, thus giving it the hashtag #EiffelTower.

In the picture, greyed out hashtags are the ones automatically assigned by Google, and blue ones are the ones added by the sharer themselves:

Google+ auto hashtags

Of course: if you already tag your posts, Google says it’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).”

Here is how the automatic categorization works:

  • “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,” explains Google.

For content like photos and videos, they will get the same treatment that they do on mobile, which is spread across multiple columns.

There are other interactive animations, like a bounce when you share someone’s post.

Google+ photos stream

Google also launched today a stand-alone version of Hangouts that combines text, photos and live video across Android, iOS, plus its Gmail and Google+ site integrations and your computer.

The new new unified, cross-platform Hangouts messaging system replacing Google Talk and G+ Messenger. “Instead of different versions of chat, video chat and calling across Google products, Hangouts gives you one consistent way to connect with the people you care about,” Google stated.

Hangouts is available in Gmail, Google+, and a downloadable app for Android phones and tablets from Google Play, iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch from iTunes App Store, and as a Windows, Mac or Linux desktop application using the Chrome extension.

There are currently “no plans” for other platforms like Windows Phone or Blackberry.

You now have the option to switch from the current version of chat to Hangouts. Simply click “Try it out” next to your chat list to switch to Hangouts and give your chat an instant facelift (literally!).

You’ll now see the profile photos in the order of your most recent conversations. With Hangouts, you’ll also be able to quickly send messages, have video calls with up to ten people at once, and share photos. You can start a conversation with just one friend or even a whole group.

You can start a Hangout on your phone, and pick it up in Gmail right where you left off!

The app is fast, free, and includes a number of key benefits, like:

  • You can see when friends are on Hangouts, if they’re currently typing, and if they’ve seen your messages [also known as read receipts]. Using Google+ Circles, you can select specific friends or a whole group to start a chat with.

  • 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.

    Hangouts takes care to deliver your messages to whichever web interface or mobile app your friends are using. If you’re offline, Hangouts will store your messages until you return. Unlike Google Talk, it won’t send you an email every time you get a message while offline. It only pings you by email if someone starts a conversation with you while you’re away.

  • You can talk face-to-face-to-face with up to 10 friends. 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.

    When you’re in a video chat, you’ll see who is talking in a big window while the rest of your chat partners are shown in tiles below. Friends’ Hangouts will ring when you call them, and they’ll get notified if they miss the digital meetup.

    Google also add visual and sound effects or make use of special Hangouts apps. You can watch YouTube videos simultaneously with friends while laughing together, and take screenshots to capture moments for later.

  • You can also spice up your words, with any of 850 hand-drawn emoji. As well as you can send photos in Hangouts, which are saved to a saved to a Google+ album that you and you conversation partners can view, edit, and share later.
  • You can also go back and view your photo and messaging history at any time, or you can turn history off so your dispatches aren’t saved.

New Unified Hangout appNew Google Hangouts app

New Hangouts in Gmail

Google+ Photos now making use of the many of the tools of Nik Software, “automating a lot of the photo editing and sharing process.” For example, Google+ can now automatically enhance the tone of an image, soften skin, sharpen certain parts of an image and remove noise including red eyes.

“The system analyze your images and kick out blurry photos, duplicates, images with bad exposure. It can also recognize good images with certain landmarks, for example, and detect faces and see if people are smiling and/or of those people are in your Google+ circles. It will also try to make some decision based on aesthetics,” explains Vic.

The original image, remain untouched and users can easily toggle back and forth between the enhanced version and the original.

Auto Backup (aka Instant Upload). Google with your “permission” now 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),” Google said.

Auto Highlighthelps 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.

Google+ Photos: Autoehnance

Auto Enhance improves 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,” explains google.

Auto Awesome automatically create a brand new image or an animated GIF, based on a set of photos in your library. “If we detect that you took a series of photos, in burst mode or otherwise, we can stitch them together,” Gundotra stated.

The “auto awesome” can also automatically create a group photo from a series of photos and pick the one with everyone’s best smile. “It can stitch together landscape photos to create panoramas and create HDR images from a series of photos where it detects bracketed exposures,” Gundotra explains.

Update 05/18: Google+ Hangouts SMS Google added a new feature called “SMS for Hangouts” to the Accounts settings page. This feature works for most of the countries where Gmail SMS is supported by Gooogle, but “not in the United States.”

You can now “add your phone number to receive messages from Google+ Hangouts as SMS, when you are idle.” Google goes on to explain that “SMS is less secure and may be less reliable than web-based communication. All messages sent by SMS are sent via your mobile carrier network, without encryption.”

Google Hangouts SMS Accounts page

Google Plus Hangouts Account Settings Page

To help Gooogle+ Hangouts service, Google has also launched a new “settings page for phone numbers.”

By default, the page only includes a message that says: “No phone numbers associated with this setting.” A help center page explains that this feature will help your friends find your phone number.

“Help people who have your phone number find you on Google services and connect with you. For example, your friends will be able to start a Hangout with you by typing in your phone number. When this setting is checked, it makes it easier for people who have your phone number to find you on Google services. When this setting is unchecked, people may not be able to look up your name, photo and public Google profile (and other profile information you have shared with them) via that phone number.”

Google+ Hangouts Settings page for phone numbers

Google Now’s Topics Page is back, just go to www.google.com/now/topics/ and you’ll see a long list of topics related to your recent searches. They’re based on your search history and should only show up if you performed multiple related searches about a topic.

Google uses the Knowledge Graph to generate related people, music, movies, hotels and more.

Click one of the topics and you’ll get a list of search results that are supposed to be helpful. You’ll see reviews, forum threads, news articles, videos, web pages and other related topics.

There are publicly available topics pages like this one.

Google Now Topics Home page Google Now Topics Page

Google Now Topics Results Page

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