There have always been a good number of reasons for using different Google services, aside from the price. GMail gives us many gigabytes of IMAP-accessible email. YouTube: HD streaming video. Maps: a powerful API and a photograph of every pavement in Britain! But one area that Google has always been a bit lacking is in producing attractive UI design. Functional, yes. Pretty, no. But over the past couple of weeks, that has all changed.
Ripping off Facebook?
Obviously it’s been a big month for Google because of Google Plus. This is, without a doubt, a social network with the ability to take down the mighty Facebook. The similarities are so obvious that I don’t know how they can get away with it. Facebook’s best features: wall posts, galleries, etc. are all there and in the same place as on Facebook. One way it distances itself from Facebook is in the privacy settings. You no longer have to share absolutely everything with absolutely everybody. I can finally ‘befriend’ my mother! Adding someone to a ‘family’ circle, for example, means that they won’t necessarily see absolutely everything you post. Of course, in my opinion, no Zuckerberg is also killer feature. I trust the giant faceless Google even more than I do the rather dodgy Facebook figurehead. I think maybe just because at the very least, I can take my data from the service whenever I want. Google+ is a great service on it’s own merits though, and now part of an increasingly well tied together package. There is still a lot of work to be done: For example Google are telling companies and organisations to hold off creating accounts for now and hear is actively disabling non-individual user accounts.
Regardless, the visual feel of the place does not feel half-done and Google have rolled out a simliar new look and feel across all their services. From Calendar to new GMail themes, the new styles are an improvement across the board and help tie everything together.
YouTube gets love too
Another large part of this aesthetically pleasing drive is the somewhat oddly named Cosmic Panda. This is billed as a “new experience” which provides a less cluttered, clearer YouTube experience. It’s the little features that I like most: The simple pointer cursor when you hover over the scrubber – making accurately picking the time to skip to easier. Full-page-width video is shown by default, so there is none of that silly loading a video, clicking once to make it grow to a reasonable size, then a wait for it to re-cache the video at another quality setting. User channel pages (such as this) are also more visually pleasing, although the aspect of the video thumbnails seems like a bit of an odd choice. 266px by 100px? What sort of a ratio is that? It leads to some very odd thumbnails indeed.
I also like the feedback they’re running on this. It allows you to click on each part of the page you have an issue with and leave a note. This works really well. So well that it’d be nice if I could take a system like this and use it with clients (nudge nudge, Google). Choosing to be part of Cosmic Panda will change things globally, so all YouTube video pages you visit (no matter where from) will have the new theme applied. Unlike the other refreshed interfaces that Google has forced upon us recently, this is optional. My recommendation is give it a try, it only takes one click to set everything back to how it was.
All in all, good work Google. They have done the UI design equivalent of the girl in the movies who takes her glasses off and suddenly we all see that she’s not just smart, but pretty as well.
If I understand Google+ correctly, you can follow/befriend/whatever me on the service here.