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Google’s Vic Gundotra on Why Plus Isn’t a Minus

So just what is Google+, anyway?

That was the question Guy Kawasaki asked Vic Gundotra as the pair kicked off a discussion in Austin on Friday. Kawasaki said that if you ask five different people at Google you will get eight different answers.

“It’s all of those eight different things,” Gundotra said, speaking at SXSW, which began earlier in the day. Elaborating, Gundotra reiterated that the company envisions Google+ as a social layer that connects everything the company does.

For all its prowess in search, Gundotra said, “there are some things Google could have done better.”

Part of the problem, Gundotra said, was the company didn’t have a good understanding of people. That, he said, is what Google+ is about.

“You can think of Google+ as Google 2.0,” he said. “In the new version of Google, we know your name, we know your circles and we make (our) services better.”

As for the criticisms that Google+ is a flop, Gundotra stressed that it is only a few months old and promised much more is on the way.

“We’re going to get a lot better,” Gundotra said.

Gundotra talked in high terms about the potential that such personalization can offer, noting that vegetarians would probably prefer to get veggie restaurants prioritized.

Kawasaki said, “Are you still not doing any evil?”

The company remains in check, Gundotra said, because users can leave Google with one click.

Gundotra also took jabs at the way Facebook does its advertising. “We should not be injecting ads into your most intimate social experiences,” Gundotra said. (That reminds me, I need to check my Gmail.)

In any case, Gundotra said it doesn’t plan to serve ads in its photo albums for the foreseeable future.

Here are some other tidbits from his talk:

Only a small fraction of users have turned off the “social search” feature that uses Google+ to influence search results.

On why the company hasn’t opened up Google+ to developers
“I am 100 percent to blame,” he said. Gundotra said it would be easy to open up access, but the company hasn’t figured out how to keep the social stream from getting polluted and doesn’t want to open up access and then revoke it.

“We could open the API up tomorrow,” Gundotra said.


Gundotra refused to commit to even releasing the programming hooks for Google+ this year. “I’m going to release the API when I am confident I am not going to screw over developers,” he said.

On why does one have to use their legal id on Google+
Google announced supports for pseudonyms, Gundotra said. But, critics note, tying one’s nickname to his or her real name is not the same as being able to use only one’s chosen identity.

“We are not done,” he said. “It’s just a matter of sequencing.”

On how hangouts came to be
Gundotra said the company was looking into why families and other groups weren’t doing video chat.

Group video chat was complicated and expensive, problems that were easily solved. The third, and trickier, is a social one. It’s the fear of interrupting. Gundotra noted that people rarely knock on their neighbor’s door to ask how they are doing, but might be much more likely to do so if the neighbor is just sitting on the porch.

On how Google+ is influencing ads
Gundotra notes that advertisers are seeing click-through rates that are 5 percent to 10 percent higher if they have a social signal, such as a friend who has marked the ad “+1.”

“We know our model is working,” he said. “The early results are staggering.”

That kind of improvement, Gundotra said, is what allows Google not to “jam ads” into the photo stream.

Kawasaki wraps up by plugging a brand new e-book on Google+, called “What the Plus!” It’s $2.99, but Samsung is apparently sponsoring some free copies at whattheplus.com.

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The problem with the Billionaire Savior phase of the newspaper collapse has always been that billionaires don’t tend to like the kind of authority-questioning journalism that upsets the status quo.

— Ryan Chittum, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review about the promise of Pierre Omidyar’s new media venture with Glenn Greenwald