Google knows which of your photos are best
Google is working hard to make you love Google+, its growing but still often-overlooked social network.
How hard? The tech titan introduced 41 new Google+ features Wednesday, including a spiffy design, a Hangouts mobile chat feature and more tools for editing your photo library.
With some 360 million active users, Google+ has surpassed Twitter to become the world's second-most popular social network, after Facebook.
Here's a closer look at the updates, which were announced by Vic Gundotra, senior vice president and Google+ manager, at the company's I/O conference.
Google as photo assistant
Google+ has added automated photo-editing features that, depending on how well they work, could save amateur photographers huge amounts of time.
Given an unedited batch of photos from a recent family vacation, Google+ can narrow the images down to what it determines are the best shots. "I don't have time to pick them out (myself) because my vacation is over," said Gundotra.
The process begins with elimination, culling images that are blurry, duplicates or poorly exposed. It recognizes and includes landmarks and people in its final selections. Google's algorithms have been learning what people find beautiful in a photograph and uses that information to identify shots that are aesthetically pleasing.
It also uses facial detection to identify who appears in your photos to find people to whom you are close, such as family members.
Once the best shots are isolated, the next step is making them even better. Many people now rely on the auto-enhance button found in photo editing apps, from iPhoto to Instagram. Google+ has added its take on the auto button, which dabbles in white balance, skin softening, vignettes, sharpening and taking out red eye.
Finally, Google+ is adding something called Auto Awesome that does kicky things with photos such as turning them into small collages and turning multiple images into everyone's new favorite image format, the animated GIF.
Hangouts turns into a chat client
Hangouts, the free group video-calling service that's become one of the more popular Google+ features, is getting into the mobile chat business.
Google is rolling out a standalone app version of Hangouts that combines text, photos and live video. The feature will work across Android and iOS devices and can include multiple people.
Users of the app will now be able to save logs of chats if they want to swipe back in time to recall conversations.
The idea, according to Gundotra, is to offer a communication tool that can be used on any device, regardless of the platform.
"Why should OSes matter? People matter," said Gundotra. "Frankly even Google's own services have been fragmented and confused at times,"
A new G+ look
The new Google+ layout emphasizes multiple streams, or columns, of posts, athough the number you see will change to fit the device you're using, whether it's a giant desktop screen or a small smartphone.
Images are front and center in the new design, and photos and videos can fill the entire width of the stream. In other words, Google+ will look more like Pinterest.
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