At the annual SxSW conference in Austin today, Google+'s spiritual father and Google's senior vice president of engineering Vic Gundotra took the stage for a fireside chat with Guy Kawasaki. In the wide-ranging interview, Kawasaki and Gundotra touched upon a number of issues ranging from privacy to API access to the metrics Google is using to judge the success of Google+.
What is Google+?
Asked about what Google+ actually is, Gundotra answered that, at its simplest, it is a social layer across all of Google's services. For Gundotra, what was missing on Google before Google+ was its ability to really understand its users and their connections. The challenge, in Gundotra's view, is that most people don't actually quite understand this. His argument is that what Google+'s users see and experience on Google+ is heavily dependent on their preconceived notions. "People's expectations," he said, "and their experiences with social sites, have been very conservative."
Asked about where Google would draw the line between just being useful and becoming evil, Gundotra noted that users can just delete their accounts and move to another service. The general feeling one got from watching Gundotra was that in his view, those who don't quite get Google+ are probably not using it right and not looking at it in the right way.
API: Not Going to be Released Anytime Soon
As for a full read/write API that would give developers access to the stream and allow them to post to it, Gundotra noted that he doesn't quite want to do it yet. In his view, just opening up an API would pollute the stream. Gundotra says he isn't sure that API would even be released this year. Google, he says, wants "to do right by developers" and not have to pull access to the API at some point in the future because it didn't get it right.
Sill No Clear Information About Metrics
Asked about metrics, Gundotra said that the numbers are "pretty staggering" but wouldn't disclose any meaningful numbers. He said that 50 million people now sign in to Google+ daily and over 100 million active users in the last 30 days. Google, of course, has been using just these numbers for a while now, but given that they also include users who just sign in to other services that are somehow linked to Google+ (including Google search), this isn't really useful information.
Because Google defines Google+ as a social layer on top of all of Google, the scale of these numbers makes sense, but they don't really give us any indication how well the Google+ as a social network is really doing. Gundotra, however, clearly didn't want to address these numbers. Most pundits have been taking Google's reluctance to talk about this as a sign that the numbers probably aren't great, or Google would be talking about them all the time.