Liz Gannes

Recent Posts by Liz Gannes

Google Execs Explain Why They Launched Google+ Now, Before It’s Ready

Even many of those promised first-day access, like the journalists at AllThingsD, waited hours for the company to untangle its “limited field trial” access process. I just corresponded with a Google PR person who hasn’t been able to get in yet himself. You call that a launch?

I have to wonder, why now? Why create any more buildup for something that’s not ready yet? If it’s not all ready to go, doesn’t this just seem like a mess of incoherent features? That’s what I asked Google+ honchos Vic Gundotra and Bradley Horowitz, who are midway through this unlaunchiest of launch days.

They essentially replied that they were at a point in development where they needed to get a product out to real users, and real users would leak the product to the press, so they had to mount a PR offensive.

Gundotra and Horowitz also helped untangle for me some of rationale and logistics for the product that didn’t come through from the cutesy videos and grand theories of privacy and sharing in their blog post and interviews today.

One thing I hadn’t grokked earlier is the somewhat awkward Google+ name, which Horowitz said is meant to signify how it will impact every Google product by making them socially compatible: “It’s almost the smallest modifier on Google itself that you can imagine,” he said.

Horowitz and Gundotra explain what that the heck that means in a lightly edited transcript of our conversation:

AllThingsD: Why launch now when you’re not really launching?

Bradley Horowitz: I think we learned a lot from [previous much-maligned social product] Buzz and it has very much informed the product that we’re moving forward. People care deeply about their online presence and representation and a lot of what we’ve built conveys that. One of the things we’ve learned from Buzz is that putting a product to market teaches you a lot of things you cannot learn from testing. I believe we’ve exhausted what we can learn from internal testing and so we’ll now expose to a limited number of users.

What kind of demand are you hoping for?

Horowitz: Demand is interesting when we’re capping growth artificially through this invite stage. At this point we don’t have the intention of generating pent-up demand, mostly we’re in a learning phase.

But isn’t that what a press launch does — generate demand?

Horowitz: There’s no way that we could have tested this that doesn’t become a story. We’re not proactively marketing this. Right now if users come it’s a relatively frustrating experience, they’re told to go away. The intent is to discuss our motivation so people understand where we’re headed.

What is the hook that gets people to incorporate this into their daily lives?

Vic Gundotra: : We looked at how people share and we looked at the tools available to them and we saw this huge missing capability. [Here he goes into the comparison of Circles with Facebook without naming it; you can get this from other coverage around the Web so I’m leaving it out here.]

[continued] You’re using these services already; you’re using Google maps, you use Google search, you use YouTube, you might be using Android or Chrome. So we’re going to continue to make Google dramatically better and reward you for spending the few minutes it takes to say this is my family, these are my real friends. And we think the process of creating circles is a breakthrough. People don’t like cumbersome processes.

Is this a set of features or is it a whole package?

Horowitz: We’re calling this the Google+ project for a reason. It’s not a monolithic product. We’ve had products before: Blogger is a product, Orkut is a product, Buzz is a product. This is a project and when we say “project” we mean it’s much broader in scope. This is something that will impact Google.

That’s why it’s Google+, almost the smallest modifier on Google itself that you can imagine.

Similarly, it’s much longer in timeframe. There are features and foundational elements that we’re dropping today: things like the stream, the rich profile, the Circle editor, those are core to everything that will come next and those are new.

But you’ll see increasingly that this is about making these suite of Google services coherent and better. So when you’re on maps and you want to share driving directions, you don’t have to do it in a different way, it utilizes common infrastructure, common gestures.

We already have literally billions of users using these services at Google with the inefficiencies we have today, and we think this will delight these uses and create a common way for them to connect to other people and ultimately on the net.

Why did you do so much self-flagellation about being late to social in the various interviews you did around this announcement? Why did you feel like you had to convey that level of humility?

Gundotra: It’s just sincere. I don’t think it’s anything more than that. We do have a mission that we’ve been working on for a long time: organizing the world’s information and making it universally accessible and available.

And when you look at the web today it’s obvious it’s not just about pages, it’s about people. It’s not just about information, it’s about what individuals are doing. So I think we have to do that in a coherent way. We think there’s just tremendous room to do great stuff.

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Another gadget you don’t really need. Will not work once you get it home. New model out in 4 weeks. Battery life is too short to be of any use.

— From the fact sheet for a fake product entitled Useless Plasticbox 1.2 (an actual empty plastic box) placed in L.A.-area Best Buy stores by an artist called Plastic Jesus