Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Year in Review 2015: Google for Content Creators, Collectors and Consumers

2015 was a busy year at Google. Alphabet became the new parent company with Google just one of its subsidiaries, and naturally that was followed by a new Google logo. There were retirements (Helpouts), major launches (Google Photos, YouTube Gaming) and big changes (Google+, Hangouts).

If you want the big picture, read on and check out the 2015 timeline. I've also put together more detailed overviews of the changes to Google+PhotosLocal Businesses and Pages, YouTube for viewers, YouTube Creators and Partners, live streaming, HangoutsBlogger and AdSense.

What happened in the Google universe in 2015? 

This year's biggest change? After half a year of streamlining, Google announced that Google+ is no longer the "social layer" across Google products and services. Instead it's going it alone, with a more "focused experience" and an emphasis on content. To that end, 2015 saw the launch of Collections and the ongoing separation of Photos, Hangouts, Local Businesses and YouTube from Google+. The year is ending with a brand new Google+ user interface, still under development.
While Local Businesses are still represented by Google+ Local Pages, there has been an ongoing separation from Google+. In October the new Google My Business dashboard ( replaced the Google+ Pages dashboard. The new Google+ profiles no longer display local business reviews - those have moved to Google Maps.
In May Google Photos launched as a stand-alone service that doesn't require a Google+ profile. Since then there have been a number of improvements and updates, such as shared albums. The old Picasa Web Albums is not only still around, but is currently the only place to access albums created by other Google products such as Google+ Photos from Posts, Blogger blogs, and Hangouts.
YouTube launched several new ways to watch:  YouTube Kids, YouTube Gaming (with an emphasis on live broadcasting), YouTube Music and the ad-free YouTube Red subscription service. And more sorts of videos are now supported: high frame rate videos, 360-degree videos, and VR video. And watching video on mobile got better, with a redesigned YouTube mobile app. Some of the improvements were smaller, but very welcome, like the return of subscription grid view on desktop.
For YouTube Creators and Partners the big news was the separation of YouTube from Google+, starting with comments, then Google+ Profile-connected channels. That process is ongoing.

YouTube Analytics got new tools for analyzing views and engagement, and mobile-friendly Cards were introduced to eventually replace Annotations. YouTube Spaces for creators opened in Berlin and Mumbai. Plus new video options form 360 videos to improved live streaming, and potentially higher earnings form YouTube Red subscribers.
2015 was also the year Live Streaming came to the masses. Mobile streaming apps Periscope and Meerkat launched, YouTube offered easy broadcasting for gamers from both the desktop and mobile devices, expanded beyond gaming, Blab let you stream your conversations and even Facebook has gotten into the act. Alas, Hangouts on Air didn't get any major updates.
Hangouts got a home of its own at but was removed from the new Google+ desktop interface. The Chrome Hangouts app for desktop got a major update with Mac support. And non-event video calls were streamlined, with the removal of most apps. The mobile Hangouts app for Android and iOS got a number of updates and improvements, including - finally! - group MMS.
Blogger added easy integration with Google Domains, banned - for a short time - nudity and porn, introduced new layout and template options and HTTPS security.
AdSense made it easier to apply for an account, introduced new ways to earn (Consumer Surveys and Matched Content), redesigned Performance Reports and offers more transparency about Payments. And you can #AskTheAdSenseGuy policy questions!
Want to stay up to date all year long? Follow my Weekly Updates!

Weekly Updates

Read on for details and links!

2015 Timeline: Out with the old, in with the new

The list below gives an overview of some of the major events in the Google universe in 2015 for both creators and consumers of content.

2015 Review: Google+ 

Google+ is neither dead, nor dying. But it's also no longer the "social layer" across Google products. If you were watching closely you may have seen this change coming.

In an interview in Forbes in February, Google's senior vice president of products Sundar Pichai noted that Google+ has been successful providing a common identity across products. But he added:
“I think increasingly you’ll see us focus on communications, photos and the Google+ Stream as three important areas, rather than being thought of as one area,” 
By mid-2015 Google+ was no longer mandatory for many Google services. Hangouts didn't required a Google+ profile for chats or video calls. With the Google Photos launch in May, photo auto-backup and management was also independent of Google+. And Google notifications under the bell icon separated Google+ notifications from YouTube and Photos notifications.

Google+ also became more streamlined, losing  Ripples, Circle sharing and automatic hashtags.

Meanwhile there was a new emphasis on the Google+ Stream. Collections launched as a new way to organize shared and curate posts and photos, and for people to find and follow the content the are interested in.

As Bradley Horowitz - Google's Vice President for Photos and Streams - explained in an interview in May :
Three and a half years into this journey, we’re looking at what the users are telling us Google Plus is good for, and doubling down on those uses. For instance, one particular use-case on Google Plus is people aligning around common interests. If I’m interested in astronomy and I want to meet other people interested in astronomy, we think we have a good solution — Collections, a new feature that we launched just two weeks ago. It’s the first in a series of pivots. We’re also moving aside the things that either belong as independent products, like photos, or eliminating things that we think aren’t working.
In July the meaning of "eliminating things that aren't working" became clear: Google+ would no longer provide an identity across Google products (especially YouTube). Instead, Google+ would become more focused on "shared interests" and content. Bradley Horowitz explained how was a good thing:
What does this mean for Google+ the product? Relieved of the notion of integrating with every other product at Google, Google+ can now focus on doing what it’s already doing quite well: helping millions of users around the world connect around the interest they love. Aspects of the product that don’t serve this agenda have been, or will be, retired. But you’ll also see a slew of improvements that make this use case shine (like the recent launch of Collections -
There is even an official Google+ Collections Community meant to help users build featurable Collections.

And in November Google+ launched an entirely new web interface that "puts Collections and Communities front and center". It's still a preview, and Google+ is gathering user feedback, but it's clear it's much simpler than "classic" Google+.

Will the new Google+ be a success? Only time will tell.

My 2015 Google+ Tips and Articles

Google+ 2015 Timeline
Jump to the detailed overview for Google+PhotosLocal Businesses and PagesYouTube for viewersYouTube Creators and Partnerslive streamingHangoutsBloggerAdSense.

2015 Review: Google for Local Businesses and Brand Pages

Google+ is no longer the place for customers and clients to find and review businesses. Google+ local search was retired, and the options for finding and reviewing local businesses have moved to Google Maps and Google Search.

The changes don't only affect Local Pages. The new Google My Business dashboard ( replaced the Google+ Pages dashboard ( for both Brand Pages and Local Pages. If you have a number of Pages that means having to switch between GMB and Google+.

The new Google+ hasn't been fully implemented for Pages yet, but the focus has clearly changed. Currently the new profiles don't display links or a description, and Local Pages don't have a Reviews tab. That may change, but it's clear the focus will be content posted on Google+.

Will businesses require a Local Google+ Page in the future? Google hasn't said, but I wouldn't be surprised if they don't.

Google My Business/Google Pages 2015 Timeline 

(note that I don't closely follow Google Local updates that don't relate to Google+, so this list is incomplete!)

2015 Review: Google Photos and Picasa Web Albums

Google+ Photos have been retired, and photos can now be found in three places: Google Photos (autobackups and most albums), Picasa Web Albums (autobackups and all albums) and Google Drive (all photos, but no albums).

Photos began the move out of Google+ in March, when Google Photos became available in Google Drive.

Google Photos was introduced at Google i/o at the end of May with it's own site ( and no Google+ Profile required. Since then Google Photos has has been updated to support Google+ Pages and added new features like collaborative photo albums.

Picasa Web Albums hasn't been updated, but it remains the place to find your albums created by Google services: your Google+ Photos from Posts album, Blogger blog albums, and Hangouts albums.

My hope is that this will be simplified in 2016, with all our photos available in one place.

Google also released several new photo-related mobile apps: Google released a brand new version of the Snapseed mobile photo editing app, Google Maps Views was replaced by a new "Street View" app (with photo sphere creation and management), and a Google Cardboard Camera app to take 360-degree images.

My 2015 Photos Articles and Tips

Googe Photos 2015 Updates

2015 Review: YouTube Video Technology and Viewer Options

The first YouTube video was uploaded in May 2005. Over the last 10 years YouTube has continued to improve it's video technology. Flash is on its way out, replaced by HTML5. And in the past year YouTube introduced 360-degree and VR videos, an experimental feature that lets viewers switch cameras during a broadcast, and  high frame rate videos.

YouTube has also launched several new ways to watch for specific audiences:  YouTube KidsYouTube Gaming (with an emphasis on live broadcasting), YouTube Music, plus the ad-free YouTube Red subscription service.

YouTube also made it easier to view your subscriptions, with a redesigned YouTube mobile app and the return of subscription grid view on desktop.

What did we lose? Subscription Collections were retired (RIP) and the YouTube app is no longer supported on older smart TVs, iOS devices and game consoles.

What will come next? I'm hoping for better ways to find interesting videos, both from my subscriptions and as recommended videos.

YouTube 2015 updates for viewers 

2015 Review: Updates for YouTube Creators

In spring 2012 YouTube began offering new users the option to create a channel connected to Google+. That was the beginning of the long process of integrating YouTube with Google+. In July, after several years of annoyance and confusion, Google announced the separation of YouTube from Google+.

Bradley Horowitz acknowledged that the process had not gone well:
Four years ago when we conceived of the “Google+ Project”, we made it clear that our goals were always two-fold: Google+ aspired to be both a “platform layer that unified Google’s sharing models”, and a product / stream / app in its own right. 
This was a well-intentioned goal, but as realized it led to some product experiences that users sometimes found confusing. For instance, and perhaps most controversially, integration with YouTube implied that leaving a comment on YouTube (something users had obviously been doing successfully for years) suddenly and unexpectedly required “joining Google+.”
The first change was to YouTube comments, which has gotten a mixed response - it turns out some users liked sharing their comments to Google+, especially as that allowed collecting your own comments in one place.

Since then the dis-integration process has been slow but steady, and it's now possible to have a full-featured channel that is not connected to Google+.  But the process is not complete - Google+ Pages are still needed for channels with a business or other name. And custom URLs, notifications under the bell and  other features are still dependent on Google+.

It's been a slow process, but 2016 should see YouTube channels free of Google+, hopefully with some improvements in comment, PM and channel management.

Beyond that, YouTube Analytics got new tools for analyzing views (realtime data!), engagement, and earnings. Mobile-friendly Cards were introduced as an eventual replacement for mobile-unfriendly annotations. Plus Creator Credits to acknowledge collaborations and translation tools to widen your audience.

And all the new video options for viewers are opportunities for creators, including 360-degree videos, high frame rate videos, and improved live streaming for both gamers and other broadcasters.

Even the new YouTube Red could be a boon, with potentially higher earnings form YouTube Red subscribers.

YouTube has also been working to help Creators around the world. YouTube Spaces for creators opened in Berlin and Mumbai and will be coming soon to Rio. An launched local versions for Adriatics, Baltics, Bulgaria, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Belarus, meaning Creators from those countries can now join the YouTube Partner Program.

And even if you aren't able to visit a YouTube Space in person, you can get help improving your videos and channel with totally free Creator Academy lessons, available in 20 languages.

And in the US YouTube is giving legal support to selected Creators to fight for fair use.

Hopefully there will be more to come in 2016.

See also: 2015 YouTube Analytics Updates (Ted Hamilton)

My 2015 YouTube articles and tips

YouTube 2015 updates for Creators 

2015 Review: Go Live!

2015 was the year that live streaming - particularly mobile live streaming - came to the masses. A number of mobile apps were introduced that allow live streaming with just a few taps - Meerkat, Periscope, Wirecast, InstaLively, even Facebook is getting into the act.

On desktop expanded beyond gaming and Blab let you stream your conversations. 

So where is Google in all this? The YouTube Gaming app lets you stream game play or app activity from your phone.

YouTube has made a number of improvements to their live streaming system. The new Live Stream Now option (still in beta) makes it easier to stream from the desktop. And the updated YouTube Live Streaming API makes it easier for third parties to create apps and services that help you manage your YouTube streams.

And while there weren't any major updates to Hangouts on Air this year, HOAs should benefit from improvements made to the live streaming system back end too.

My hope is that in 2016 either Google will introduce a mobile live streaming app or a third party (like Telestream) will develop a mobile streaming for Android that is integrated with YouTube.

My 2015 Live Broadcasting Articles

Google Live Broadcasting 2015

2015 Review: Hangouts

Hangouts finally got its own home at . It's still accessible from other places on desktop - Gmail, Inbox, Google Contacts, and Classic Google+ - but now you don't have to open a different Google product to start a chat.

You can also use the Chrome Hangouts app - which got a major update with Mac OSX support in May - to put Hangouts on your computer's desktop or the Chrome Hangouts extension to access Hangouts from anywhere on the web (as long as you use the Chrome browser).

What else was new in 2015?
What if you hate Hangouts? While the Windows Google Talk app was retired in February, Google Talk  may still be accessed using 3rd party apps. And Google Chat is still available in Gmail. But Hangouts is currently Google's default messaging service.

There have been more than 1 billion downloads of the Android Hangouts app from the Google Play store. Join us in 2016!

My 2015 Hangouts articles and tips

Hangouts 2015 Updates 

2015 Review: Blogger

Blogger's most newsworthy update in 2015 was a change in content policy to prohibit porn and graphic nudity - a policy that was reversed within a week. 

But Blogger got a number of improvements and updates: integration with Google Domains, making it easier to set up a custom domain for your blog; the option to enable HTTPS for security; drag and drop images into a post; and a Featured Post gadget.

The Blogger template language was also expanded - that may not matter to most bloggers, but for template designers this is a nice update.

And while there weren't any Google+-related changes, Blogger did become more Google-centric: private blog sharing and Google Friend Connect now require Google accounts

With all the major changes at Google+ and YouTube and Hangouts, it's nice that Blogger's functionality hasn't changed substantially as it's been updated.

2015 Review: AdSense

A big change for AdSense this year is a new spirit of transparency. John Brown, head of AdSense Publisher Policy Communications has been posting on the official AdSense blog and even an  #AskTheAdSenseGuy column at Search Engine Journal. This is the new philosophy:
We realize that we can improve our communications, especially around warnings, suspensions, and account disablement.  My charge is to do this. I have many people working with me on better education, along with improving the language and instructions around warnings or messages received from Google. I believe that publishers understand much better where they stand at all times when our policies are clear and when we communicate them effectively, and enforce consistently.
A step in that direction: AdSense Payment History now displays invalid activity deductions.

For potential Publishers they have simplified the application process.

For established Publishers there are new ways to earn - Consumer Surveys, Matched Content, Google Contributor - plus new richer text ads and updated mobile text ads.

There are also improved performance and revenue profile reports, and a redesigned mobile app.

Too complicated? Hire a Certified Publishing Partner to help manage your account.

And hopefully earnings will rise in 2016!

AdSense 2015 Updates 

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