Home Sergey Brin & Vic Gundotra on Pseudonyms, Apps Users & the Google Plus Platform

Sergey Brin & Vic Gundotra on Pseudonyms, Apps Users & the Google Plus Platform

After lunch at Web 2.0 today, John Battelle interviewed Vic Gundotra and Sergey Brin of Google. The topic was Google Plus, and Gundotra cleared up some of the key questions about the new social network, which now has 40 million users. Google Apps users are not counted among those millions, but Gundotra confirmed that they will be “in a matter of days.”

But more importantly, Gundotra announced that “we plan to support pseudonyms in the future,” a surprising turnaround of the terse dismissals of user identity advocates in the past. On Monday, Chris Poole slammed Google for failing to understand how identity on the Web should work. Today was the first admission that Google Plus would eventually support pseudonymous users.

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Just a Plus: The Smallest Modifier

Battelle, Brin and Gundotra talked about the transition from Google to “Google+,” which, as Battelle wrote recently, indicates a shift of the whole brand, not just a new product.

“The strategy is revealed in the name,” Gundotra agreed. “We chose the smallest modifier we could. Just a plus.” But the shift it represents is not small. Plus is now a social layer built into all Google’s Web products.

The social network itself has over 40 million users. “Are you happy with that?”, Battelle asked. “We’re surprised,” Gundotra replied. “I don’t think anyone on the team thought that, a month after open signups, we would hit that number.”

By contrast, Facebook has some 800 million users. Obviously, it has been around for much longer. But as Sean Parker said on Monday, it’s hard to overcome those network effects. Gundotra agreed that it’s hard to beat the incumbent at its own game, but “we’re playing a different game.”

Is Google Plus “A Different Game?”

“I’m not a very social person,” Brin said, but he insisted that Google Plus meets his needs. So it’s a good network for anti-social people?

Brin thought Circles were too complicated at first, but he’s changed his mind, even though he has “dozens of Circles.” Gundotra added that Brin designed certain parts of the experience, like Hangouts. If Plus meets Brin’s exacting specifications for social networking, he implied, it must be working.

But Battelle pointed out a commonplace problem reported by everyday users: “Nobody is on Google Plus that’s in my world,” other than social media/tech world people. How will they overcome the network effects of the established players?

Gundotra pointed to “that little icon in the top-righthand corner.” Anyone who uses Google for anything will eventually be bugged into checking out Google Plus.

“Wouldn’t it have been faster if you had just integrated Facebook Connect?” Battelle asked. Brin grimaced, and the audience laughed. “I’m serious!”

Gundotra, deadpan, replied, “There were some challenges with that approach.”

Making A Nice Bouquet

Brin responded to criticisms that the many different Google products are not well integrated. While the company has traditionally been “letting a thousand flowers bloom,” he said, now they need to put them into a nice bouquet. The integrations are coming in fits and starts. Plus users can collaborate on Docs in Hangouts, and YouTube users can browse videos from their Google Plus stream, but these aren’t standard or across-the-board integrations. Gundotra said that Google Docs is “going to be” integrated into Plus, but no word on when.

Where’s the Google Plus Platform?

Google was recently criticized at great length by an engineer for failing to build a thriving platform. Steve Yegge, ironically, meant to post the screed privately on Google Plus, but he shared it publicly by accident. The Google Plus API has trickled out read-only features, but it’s far from a platform upon which developers can thrive. Battelle asked Gundotra and Brin to respond.

“I would be lying to you if I told you that that wasn’t a bad day,” Gundotra said. “Having said that, it gave the outside world a view of what we do internally.” He spun the incident as a candid, transparent moment that gave the outside world “a peek” into Google culture. “That’s why we didn’t fire him,” for what it’s worth.

“I didn’t make it past the first thousand pages myself,” Brin quipped.

Gundotra then gave a pretty good answer as to why the API has been slow to arrive. “We’re going to take a cautious approach. We don’t want to make the mistakes of others” – referring to Twitter – who opened its APIs, encouraging developers to commit to projects, and then reversed some policies and alienated developers. “We have a reputation to uphold.” Gundotra suggested that Google I/O in the spring will be the venue for more platform announcements.

Check out the Web 2.0 schedule and watch the events live here.

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