Google+ may not have the 800 million active users that Facebook has, but Google's senior vice president of engineering and project leader of Google+, Vic Gundotra, believes they'll continue to grow their numbers and gain traction in the social media market. He spoke in detail about Google+ at the Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco on Wednesday.
Gundotra touted the 40 million Google+ users that are using the social media platform less than one month after the company opened registration to the public. John Battelle, Web 2.0 conference chairman and co-moderator, asked Gundotra during the discussion if the people that have signed up for Google+ are actually using the platform. Gundotra dodged the question.
I think it's very important to understand the strategy behind Google+, and the strategy is revealed in the name, he said. We chose the smallest modifier we could on Google-just a plus-because our goal is not to build something separate and distinct, but to really take the Google service that people love already-Android, Google Maps, Youtube, Google search-and really make those properties magical. The Google+ user-base is about 4% of total Google network users.
Sergey Brin, one of the Google's co-founders, was intimately involved in the production Google+. He was also on stage at Web 2.0 and offered his expertise several times during the discussion. Gundotra attributes Brin as the person who created the idea of Google Hangouts, which is a free video conferencing application that enables up to 10 people to video chat together at one time.
Battelle, who cut through the rhetoric of C-level executives all week during discussions at Web 2.0 Summit, put the pressure on Brin and Gundotra when he said that although Google employees may be using Google+ regularly, very few people outside of the company are using it regularly.
Battelle elaborated: He said he sees vibrant posts on Google+ from his colleagues, who all work with technology and social media, but he hasn't seen the same quality posting from his family, who, for whatever reason, have been slow to take on the new format.
Battelle then mentioned a conversation he had with Sean Parker, co-founder of Napster recently made popular through the movie The Social Network, who had said it's very hard to spread a new social media platform past user's closest group of friends. Essentially, it's hard to make a new social media platform viral.
Unlike Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, who attacked his biggest competitors when the weaknesses of Microsoft products were called into question by Battel, Gundotra admitted Google+ has an uphill battle.
The point that Sean made was right, said Gundotra. The incumbent has a huge advantage and, if you play the same game, that's a hard game to win. We're going to play a different game.
Gundotra goes on to say that most peoples friends and family are already on the Google network. The company, now, wants to give them the ability to express their identity and relationships.
Later in the discussion, Brin talked about the projects that the company has taken on in the past few years. Some of our products seem scattered, and we definitely have been trying to bring them together, said Brin. In some ways we've always run the company as 'let one thousand flowers bloom,' but once those flowers do bloom, you want to put together a coherent bouquet.
Brin adds: We're going to try to make Google a more seamless experience across the various products.
Steve Ballmer's claim that Windows Live is beating Google, which occurred one day earlier at the Web 2.0 Summit, was brought up later in the discussion. This prompted Gundotra to allude to Google Docs pending integration with Google+. No details were revealed about how Google Docs would be integrated with Google+.
Brin added that, although he can't speak to Microsoft's success because they've obviously been the incumbent for many, many years, it was an area he was surprised to hear such an aggressive claim.
Four million businesses currently use Google Apps according to Brin. Five thousand sign up everyday. Brin believes that the company is seeing tremendous growth among their cloud apps and estimates that the number of Google Apps users doubles every year.
Brin polled the audience: Who here works at a start-up and uses something other than Google Apps as their email? he said. Three people raised their hands. And who here uses Google Apps as their email?
Wow, said Gundotra in awe of the amount of hands. Brin used the poll to solidify his point about the growing number of users on Google Apps products.
In addition to the growing number of Google Apps users, Gundotra pointed out that 3.4 billion photos were uploaded onto Google+ in the past 100 days.
Although the number seems extremely high, it's likely because anyone with an Android phone has their photos automatically uploaded to the Google cloud; however, photos uploaded from Android smartphones are not automatically shared on Google+.
Gundotra later offered one of his biggest criticisms of Facebook and defined how Google philosophically takes a much different stance than the largest social network in the world. Gundotra believes that there should be greater emphasis placed on curation and selective-sharing. He adds that Google believes in the idea of over-sharing.
Gundotra says that even with something as simple as music, people may be embarrassed to share that they like a particular song, which was a clear jab at Spotify's recent collaboration with Facebook.
You'll see us take a very privacy-centered approach, says Gundotra. Battelle then challenged Gundotra by asking him about why Google+ doesn't offer handles or pseudonyms, especially if they respect people's privacy. Battelle cited that hackers often prefer to be referred as their handles or pseudonyms, as they often had been at Web 2.0 Summit.
Gundotra said that Google+ will eventually allow people to use names other than their real identities, but that it's important for the company, at this stage in Google+, to only allow people to use real names.
To end the discussion, Gundotra announced that Google+ is taking a cautious approach to API and enabling developers to build on top of the Google+ platform. The reason is that the company does not want to have to go back and revoke the permissions, which is something that other companies such as Amazon and Facebook have had to do.
We have a reputation to uphold, said Gundotra. The outlook coming from Google executives seems very positive, but, when you consider every other discussion with a tech executive during the week of Web 2.0 Summit, this doesn't come to much surprise. One thing is certain, much like Microsoft, Google is all-in on social media and the cloud.