News & Views
Facebook and Google Plus both get facelifts

A couple of days ago, Google + unveiled a new look, complete with larger cover photos (a trend which we predicted would take off last year when LinkedIn redesigned its corporate pages with a greater visual focus). You’d be forgiven if you had no idea this was happening, as even now, news about Google + tends to be met with resounding apathy.

What is rather interesting, though, is that Google + isn’t the only social network to have had something of a makeover recently. Just one day after Google + showed off its shiny new look, Facebook did the same. And what’s that? They look remarkably similar?

The larger cover photo on Google + profiles (2120 x 1192 pixels with a 16:9 ratio) instantly puts users in mind of Facebook pages, but the cover photo has become something of a staple across the social sphere since the debut of Timeline, with even Twitter getting in on the act. At this point, implementing cover photos can hardly be called copying.

In fact, it is arguable that Facebook is the copycat in this scenario, announcing major changes to the design and functionality of its News Feed, such as a newer, cleaner look highly reminiscent of Google +’s signature use of white space. Other features which the two networks now have in common include the ability to highlight posts of interest, expanding them from thumbnails into visually geared displays, and a neat, compact sidebar for ease of navigation.

Neither camp is commenting directly on the similarities between their recent redesigns, although a spokesperson for Google + did acknowledge that a clean and user-friendly site is becoming a standard requirement.

Inevitable comparisons with Google + aside, Facebook’s revamped News Feed offers plenty to get excited about, by empowering users to control what content they see. The new “Switcher” feature lets you organise information by category, namely photos, videos and text. “What we’re trying to do is give everyone in the world the best personalised newspaper we can,” explained Mark Zuckerberg at a press conference on Thursday.

And while recent redevelopments have done nothing to touch on criticism of Facebook’s now infamous EdgeRank algorithm, the “Switcher” function is evidence that Facebook still cares as much about user experience as it does about its post-IPO advertising revenue streams. Sick of your feed becoming clogged with promotional spots? Now you can add filters such as “Friends Only” when you don’t want to be inundated with brand offers, and “Recent” if you don’t want to miss a thing.

It’s all about optimising the time you spend on Facebook, according to news feed product manager Avichal Garg, who told The New York Times: “It’s really not in our best interest to take out the most engaging stuff and replace it with ads… we want to make sure we show the right content to the right people.”

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