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Take a look at what's new with Google+

Google's social network gets a lot of love at I/O 2013, including a complete redesign, new chat features, new photo management and enhancement tools, and deeper integration with the rest of the Google's tools and services.

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Today's feed is flat

Google started with the look and feel of the Google+ interface, calling the current, single-column design "flat".

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The new Google+

The new Google+ stream features a simpler design that expands to display up to three columns to fill today's high-resolution screens.

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Crossing columns

For photographic and video content, the "tiles" (which are reminiscent of Google Now's) can expand to fill multiple columns. The result is potentially much more eye-catching and adds variation to the stream.

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Automatic tagging

Google's Knowledge Graph technology is able to parse the content of each Google+ post and automatically tag the content for easy discovery and retrieval. Manual hash-tagging is no longer necessary. Google+ is even able to determine the subject of a post based on photographic content.

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Discovering content

By clicking a tag attached to a Google+ post, users can click through to related posts made public on the social network to discover more information and content.

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Old Google+ stream

Here's a better look at my personal Google+ stream before the update.

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New Google+ stream

After the update, the design has been simplified. On my MacBook Air, the new stream displays only two columns. On a higher resolution screen, there are three.

Updated:Caption:Photo:Screenshot by Antuan Goodwin/CNET
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Circles illustrated

Google illustrated how the circles that Google+ users into which organize their contacts are more flexible than simple lists of friends.

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What about Google Babel?

Google has been long rumored to be combining its disparate communications services into one service under the name Google Babel. The unified messaging service debuted today under the repurposed name Google+ Hangouts.

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Google+ Hangouts

Hangouts essentially operates like Google Talk did and will replace the service completely.

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Hangouts on mobile

The app rolls in features that remind me of the old, forgotten Google+ Messenger that debuted alongside the social network, including group chats that users can drop into and out of. Access to a chat history and the ability to privately message off the record are features that have been surfaced from Google Talk.

The Hangouts app is available now for Android and iOS.

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15GB of photo storage

Google wants to encourage users to upload full-resolution photos to Google+, so it announced that it is bumping up free photo storage from 5GB to 15GB. Actually, what Google means is that it's combining Google Drive, Gmail, and Photo storage into one shared 15GB pot, but we've already covered that.

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Full resolution photos

Google compares the size of a 5MP photo upload to the average size of other social networks to illustrate how much more resolution it wants to offer its users.

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Automatic sorting

Google not only wants to allow users to upload ludicrous amounts of photography, it also wants to help them to sort through the hundreds of photos taken on, for example, a vacation.

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Only the best photos surfaced

For example, if you dump 639 vacation photos into a gallery, Google's algorithms will automatically find the best 21 and present them. The remaining 618 photos deemed not-so-great are still there, just not highlighted.

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How automatic sorting works

The automatic sorting software looks for photos that are exposed properly and not blurry, that feature people who are smiling, and landmarks. The software can also help to hide photos that appear to be duplicates.

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Your darkroom is now a datacenter

In addition to highlighting your best photos, the new Google+ will also feature online digital darkroom tools that will help users to tweak and improve those photos.

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Auto Enhance

Auto Enhance analyzes the photo and automatically adjusts the brightness, contrast, color, and noise in an attempt to make a bland photo better.

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Auto Enhance (before and after)

In the example demonstrated, a bland sky in transformed into a dramatic cloudscape at the touch of a button. I wonder if we're seeing some bleed-over over technologies that Google acquired in its purchase of Android app Snapseed.

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What else gets adjusted?

In addition to the brightness, contrast, and other standard adjustments, Google's Auto Enhance also makes a number of other tweaks to the photo to create a pleasing image.

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Skin Softening

Skin Softening is one of the adjustments highlighted in Google's presentation. The function appears to be a version of noise reduction that is specific to human skin. When applied, it smooths out wrinkles, softens blemishes, and generally make people look better. The Google I/O audience was, understandably, not enthused.

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Auto Awesome

The most interesting part of the new photo tools portion of the Google+ presentation was the new Auto Awesome functions. Geared toward having fun with your photos, Auto Awesome allows users to create collages, animated GIFs, and high dynamic range photos from a series of snaps, or to automatically find the best smile in a batch of portraits.

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Coming soon (but available now, for some)

The new Hangouts is available now on the Web and on Android and iOS devices. The new Google+ design and photo features will be rolling out over the next few weeks.

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