SXSW: Google+ is not (just) a social network

The beauty of South by Southwest is having the opportunity to attend events such as a fireside chat about the Google+ project with Vic Gundotra, Senior Vice President of Engineering for Google+. Hosted by Guy Kawasaki, there were some interesting points to take away about how Google sees its offering with Plus.

The main points were that Google+ is much more than a social network (something that we have discussed before here at FreshNetworks) – and really is destined to apply a social layer across all of Google’s existing services.  An example of this is with video: it seems like a glaring omission from Google+,  but Google is already geared up to provide video functionality through YouTube.

The purpose of Google+?

What it’s really about is allowing Google to understand more about you and who and what you find important. This is clearly important for social search results, but also has benefits in helping you with your email. Obviously this won’t just apply to helping serve you with relevant content, but also targeted advertising.

Google’s primary revenue stream comes from advertising, so as you might expect Google has some clear ideas about where, or more importantly, when adverts should be shown.

For Google the key concept is “Commercial intent” , Google only wants to show you an ad when you have shown a clear signal that you are looking to purchase something.

Vic said that Google don’t want to get to a situation like Facebook where they are injecting ads into every aspect of your life. For example, he vowed that you will never see a ad when browsing photos you have uploaded onto Google+, but they will use the information you add about those photos when targeting you with ads on a search result.

A different approach from Facebook

This desire to learn lessons from Facebook came up again later in the same discussion, when asked about why a G+ API had not been released. Vic stated that he wanted to be sure that if an API was released it would stay forever and be stable, unlike Facebooks API which fequently changes, Vic said “We hold ourselves to a higher standard”

One final point is that Google now counts any user who logs in with a Google account to be a Google+ user, even if they haven’t posted anything onto Plus itself – so it might be prudent to be careful when analysing the network’s user numbers and demographics.