Guy Kawasaki’s interview with Vic Gundotra, Senior Vice President at Google and head of the company’s social initiatives, including Google+ started off asking the hard questions – is Google+ a social network ghost town? It ended up with Kawasaki launching his new book ‘What the Plus? – Google+ For The Rest of Us” which Gundotra raved about. So I of course accepted the free download (part of my SXSW mission is to maximize the free swag quotient). On first glance, it looks like a how to use Google+ for people like me who have yet to discover a good reason to spend anytime on it other than to be seen “across all channels” as any good MCDM grad student should be.
But back to Kawasaki’s question: is Google+ a social network ghost town? According to Gundotra it’s one of the fastest growing communities around with 90 million users signed up since its launch only 6 months ago. But recently they have chosen to focus on a different sent of numbers — Gundotra claimed there are 100 million using Google+ at least once every 30 day and 50 million who are active every day. But here’s the rub: if you use any service attached to Google+, such as YouTube or Chrome or Gmail, not necessarily posting to Google+ — your activity is included. He justified including these numbers on the basis that excluding them would be equivalent to leaving the number of “likes” out of the stats for Facebook.
Google+, he said, is actually Google 2.0 removing the old walls that separated a user’s identity and how they shared with family and friends across the different Google products. The goal is to move Google from being merely an organiser of pages but to be able to understand what is important to people and when.
This he believes can have a major impact on the search experience. Being able to feed a friends’ reviews and ratings into a person’s results when actively searching is, he claims, very powerful. Their research shows that click throughs dramatically increase when the search item is associated with friends’ comments. No surprise there I guess. Just another example of the power of the personal recommendation.
He believes that even by knowing the tiniest piece of information about a person – for example that I’m a vegetarian (I’m not!) – can be transformative in terms of the quality of the search experience and help them achieve their goal of turning ads into content. Again a sensible idea, as long as we can continue to distinguish between that which is personal and that which is created for commercial intent.
Kawasaki grilled him on the resulting implications for privacy and the usage of personal data. Gundotra responded by saying that Google+ is “good for a whisper, good for shout”. In other words the individual can decide how much is private and how much is public and that it is all very transpatrent for the user.
So we return again to the ghost town question. Well Gundotra suggested that if you go to Google+ and none of your friends are there – it could be because you don’t actually have any! That is, they have not included you in their various friend or family circles. Well the truth hurts, but it’s certainly not a compelling reason to linger on a social site that apparently highlights the fact I’m not as popular as I think I am! So back to the warm embrace of my 300 or so Facebook friends. I may not actually know them but at least they let me in the group!