Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) Senior Vice President Vic Gundotra said the Google+ social network’s meteoric rise to more than 40 million users one month after launching to public beta exceeded the company’s internal expectations, and vowed to bring pseudonyms to users.
Gundotra, who shepherded Google+ to fruition for the past one and a half years, appeared alongside Google co-founder Sergey Brin at the Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco Oct. 19. Web 2.0 Summit co-host John Battelle asked him if he was happy with that speedy user adoption.
Gundotra said he is happy with its fast start — users have also shared more than 3.4 billion photos in the last 100 days — but acknowledged his team has a lot to do.
With Google+, the search provider is engaging rival Facebook in the war for users’ attention. Incumbent network Facebook has more than 800 million users, some of whom use the service an average of 8 hours per month. That’s a lot of eyeballs, time and ad clicks that Google is not getting.
Brin, noting that he is “not a very social person himself” and hasn’t spent a lot of time on Facebook, Twitter or other social networks, said that while he initially believed the Circles sharing construct would prove too complicated to use, he found Google+ instantly compelling as a user. He makes public and private posts.
Gundotra added that Brin was intimately involved in the social network’s design, including Google+ Hangouts, the network’s free video chat service for up to 10 users. Brin said he was actually being sarcastic about his enthusiasm for Hangouts and admitted he was wrong about how the service should work.
Battelle then brought up the point that while he encounters colleagues on Google+, his family members are loathe to join. He noted that when venture capitalist Sean Parker spoke at the show Monday, he said it was hard to compete with network effects, getting users and their friends to switch to new platforms. This is Google+’s universal challenge in a nutshell.
Gundotra said Parker is right in terms of challenging the incumbent at its own game. He added that Google is trying to play a different game, leveraging Google’s inherent user base, which is spread across Google Search, Gmail, YouTube and other services. Many of these users are connected by their Google accounts, or profiles, which are the connective tissue for Google+.
Gundotra and Brin Talk Google+ Stuff
Initially, he said Google+ appears to be matching some of what Facebook is doing. But in the future, users will go to Google Search, see notifications on the home screen and learn that some long lost friends are available to connect with. “We are in an enviable position,” Gundotra said. “We have the users that come to Google that give us the time to build that graph.”
However, that graph will be carefully curated, said Gundotra, who alluded to the fact that Facebook enables oversharing. “There’s a reason why every thought in your head doesn’t come out of your mouth,” Gundotra said, drawing applause from the cloud.
For example, he noted that he is embarrassed that he likes a Britney Spears song and wants everyone to know that he likes U2. This was a thinly veiled shot at Facebook’s Social Apps, which publish users “stories,” or what music they listened to, on Spotify as part of the new Timeline product.
In the course of stressing privacy, Battelle asked Gundotra about the “real names debate,” in which Google has aggressively disallowed pseudonyms on Google+ and has suspended the accounts of users who don’t use their real names. Gundotra said Google will support pseudonyms in the future, but declined to say when.
He explained that it was largely issue of development priorities and is complicated to get right, noting that Google wanted to make sure it set the right “atmosphere” or tone for the service.
Gundotra later knocked the Facebook Platform in response to a question about the Google+ API, whose piecemeal rollout continues to irk many developers.
He said Google would be cautious and not release APIs, allow developers to build applications with them, and then revoke those apps. He cited Android and Chrome as examples of how Google carefully curates APIs.
Over time, Google’s properties will be carefully and completely woven into the Google+ fabric. That will include Google Apps getting Google+ functionality in days, with Google+ brand pages coming in the future.
“By Christmas, you’ll start to see it all come together,” Gundotra added later during the Q&A session.