Liz Gannes

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“We Are Absolutely in a Feature Race,” Says Bradley Horowitz of Google+

As Facebook changes to become more about personal expression and oversharing, and Twitter maintains it will stay simple rather than get caught up in a feature race, how will Google+ respond?

Google+ VP of Product Bradley Horowitz replied in an interview yesterday: “We will compete on features — including simplicity. We are absolutely in a feature race, and I think we will run that race.”

Technology companies tend to talk about how innovative and incomparable their strategies are, so that’s a pretty rare admission.

Horowitz added, “If I had to say what fraction of Google+ is launched right now, we’ve just got the very basic foundation in place. Profiles, circle editor and stream, that’s sort of the minimum viable set of features that you need to start doing interesting things.”

I talked to Horowitz in advance of his appearance at our AsiaD conference next week, held Oct. 19-21 in Hong Kong. He said to expect new stuff to be announced there. In fact, he said to expect new features to launch every week through the end of this year — for instance, see today’s real-time search announcement.

As for whether Google+ usage is fluctuating or falling, as many watchers have speculated, Horowitz brushed them aside, saying external measurements can’t grasp the “dark matter” of Google+.

This dark matter consists of private sharing, which continues to account for two-thirds of all Google+ activity. In fact, Horowitz said, that number is “trending slightly up.”

Horowitz asked for observers to have a little patience while Google+ is being built, saying the project was never intended for such a large audience or so much scrutiny at this stage.

Shortly after I spoke with Horowitz at Google’s campus yesterday, Google engineer Steve Yegge published a scathing critique of Google’s lack of a platform strategy that was particularly hard on Google+, calling it “a knee-jerk reaction, a study in short-term thinking, predicated on the incorrect notion that Facebook is successful because they built a great product.” Yegge later said the post was intended for internal eyes only, but in addition to critiquing Google+, he apparently also had a bit of trouble using the site, and accidentally posted his manifesto on his public Google+ page. Google declined to comment on Yegge’s post.

Since Yegge’s critique wasn’t out when I visited Google yesterday, I wasn’t able to ask Horowitz what he thought of it, but his responses to my various questions might help fill in the gaps. First, Horowitz does think Google+ is a larger platform play rather than just a product, in that it will be a layer on top of all of Google’s products. And second, his team severely “underestimated the appetite for this product,” and it is currently rushing to push out all sorts of things users are asking for, as well as other stuff they haven’t anticipated.

I’m not sure those answers would suffice for Yegge, who would have preferred that Google have invited developers to be part of Google+ from the beginning, so that it could reap the benefits of being a service-oriented platform, as Amazon has through its Amazon Web Services for other developers.

Still, Yegge’s key examples of platform companies, Facebook and Amazon, only built their platforms after they had success with their own products — a social network and an e-commerce site. While some companies, like Foursquare, build their own products on top of their APIs, the usual pattern is product first, platform later.

Anyways, enough with a phantom argument between two people who work at the same company!

In my interview with Horowitz yesterday, I asked whether he thinks people are using Google+ because it’s an alternative to other social networks with a more precise structure for sharing.

“I think in the early going there was a lot of looking for an alternative,” Horowitz replied. “But I think increasingly the people who are using Google+ are the people using Google. They’re not looking for an alternative to anything, they’re looking for a better experience on Google.”

This idea of Google+ as a utility might be expressed as a button on Google Maps that helps a user send directions to attendees of a party, Horowitz said.

So does that make Google+ just a utility on top of the Google products people already use?

“That’s one rendering of it,” said Horowitz. “But there’s a stream, there’s a circle, a profile, there’s Hangouts, there’s games. It is both a means of communication and a destination.”

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I’m a giant vat of creative juices.

— David Pogue on why he’s joining Yahoo