Google founder Sergey Brin freely admits, “I am not a very social person myself.” Speaking onstage at the Web 2.0 Summit with Google+ exec Vic Gundotra, Brin says that he thought Google+ would be too complicated, with all of its Circles and different ways to share with different groups of people. But he has been pleasantly surprised. “I have been able to reconnect with friends, I was not able to do that with existing services because of the way their sharing models work. The Circles worked very well for me, I debated they were too complicated. Now I use them.”
But of course he does. What about regular people? As Sean Parker pointed out on Monday, all of your friends are already on Facebook and it will be hard to get all of them to move over to Google+. “Your mom and friends, guess what, they are already on Google,” responds Gundotra. Google will get them to use Google+ overtime.
But he does admit that “the point Sean made is right. The incumbent has a huge advantage. If you play the same game it is hard to win. We are going to play a different game.”
Hundreds of millions of people use Google every day, and every time they do that is an opportunity to introduce them to Google+. As Google builds social as the backbone across its products (Google Docs will soon be shareable on Google+), the experience should become more seamless and just a part of the way people use Google’s products. “In some ways we have run the company as to let 1,000 flowers bloom, but once they do bloom you want to put together a coherent bouquet,” says Brin.
Already you can see the impact in the numbers Google shares—more than 40 million registered users, 3.4 billion photos uploaded. But pressed on actual engagement (“Are they actually using it?” asked host John Battelle), Gundotra demurred on providing any more meaningful numbers. Google force 40 million signups, no problem. Or build photo syncing with Google+ into Android and automatically get billions of photos. But the question of how much people are actually using Google+ still hangs over the product.
Despite trying to play a different game, Google+ will continue to be compared to Facebook until it can distinguish itself. If anything, Google+ is attempting to be more about curation than an overwhelming stream of information. Asked about Facebook’s changes to its Open Graph and its new Ticker which multiplies the stream of information on Facebook, Gundotra quips: “There is reason why every thought in your head does not come out of your mouth.”
Unless, of course you are that Google engineer who shared his critique of Google+ publicly instead of privately that Google does not get platforms. “That hurt,” says Gundotra. But he adds, “it gave the outside world a view of what we do internally. Larry and Sergey have fostered a culture of open debate and open dissent. I think it is one of the things that make Google great. And is why we didn’t fire him.”
Brin adds with characteristic understatement: “I would advise those who write memos to share them appropriately.”