Google is not exactly a fledgling company. But in the social networking business, the search giant is trumped by relative newcomers Facebook and Twitter in terms of popularity and acceptance among users. Google's social networking offering Google+ is constantly evolving, though, and the latest features introduced are reminiscent of some Twitter and Facebook highlights.

Google has recently revamped its Google+ social network, and observers note the new additions and changes are heavily borrowed from rival social networks Facebook and Twitter. In particular, new features introduced include trending topics, a "dynamic" navigation menu, and a Timeline-like cover page photo.

'A Seamless Social Experience'

"It's still early days, and there's plenty left to do, but we're more excited than ever to build a seamless social experience, all across Google," says Senior VP for social business Vic Gundotra, highlighting that the new changes are aimed at making Google+ simpler and more beautiful.

To wit, the new feature highlights include the following:

  • Dynamic navigation elements, which users can drag and drop to redesign their Google+ interface;
  • Improved conversation views, which mimic those of Gmail's threaded view, conversation "cards" and full-size photo and videos
  • New hangout features, which include quick access to public hangouts, which users can join for real-time video chatting
  • A new "Explore" page is also available, for easy access to trending topics
  • Google+ likewise features a new cover photo feature

Google Plus Explore-w600.jpg

Google+ makes it easier to explore popular topics in a multimedia-rich interface for trending topics

'Borrowed' Features

Observers note, though, that a handful of these features are borrowed from social networking rivals -- particularly Facebook and Twitter. The new cover photo feature has appeared on the Facebook Timeline feature introduced late last year. The Facebook Timeline arranges a user's profile updates in a semi-reverse chronological order, with a continuously scrolling page presented per year.

Meanwhile, Twitter introduced trending topics in 2009, which presents the most popular keywords and search terms on the microblogging service. This feature has since grown into a localized feature, with the user having the ability to browse through trending topics from certain regions and countries.

However, the new Google+ features are not skin-deep. Social media and PR lecturer David Phillips says the new features "[open] up the architecture of Google Plus so you can use many more features more intuitively."

Google claims 170 million total users -- 100 million of which have reportedly been active in the past 30 days. However, the fact remains that Google+ still has to carve out its niche in the social networking space. Fast Company agrees that Google+ is now more beautiful, but questions whether it matters.

"Google+ has failed to take off. And it’s not even necessarily a fault of the product: Facebook is the de facto social network of our time. If there’s a second in command, it’s the more quick and casual Twitter," says Mark Wilson, adding that there are a limited number of social networks that users can be active on every day. The Google+ interface changes are certainly welcome, although whether these will lead to more users shifting to the service as an alternative to Facebook and Twitter, we have yet to see.