66 Comments

Summary:

It’s been obvious for awhile now that Google has a lot riding on the success of its new social network, Google+. But some comments from senior exec Brad Horowitz make it clear that Google’s new platform will become part of everything the web giant touches.

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By now it’s become fairly obvious that Google’s new social network, Google+, is here to stay (unlike some of the company’s past efforts at being social): depending on which estimates you believe, Google+ may have as many as 50 million registered users, which is not bad for a three-month old product. And the company has made it clear that it wants to use Google+ as a kind of identity platform for other things — hence the importance of its controversial “real name” policy. But it wasn’t obvious just how much was riding on the new network until recently, thanks in part to some comments made by vice-president of product Brad Horowitz, who said that in the future, Google+ and Google will effectively become inseparable.

Horowitz made his comments in an interview with Wired magazine, and among other things he said that the success the search giant has seen with Google+ wouldn’t have been possible without the failures of earlier efforts such as Buzz (which may or may not make staffers who worked on those projects feel a little better about being roadkill on the innovation highway). In fact, the Wired piece paints a picture of a team that has become incredibly gun-shy about its social efforts because of the debacle that Buzz turned into — thanks in part to what some users felt was a cavalier approach to privacy — which probably makes the success of Google+ seem even sweeter by comparison.

Google+ “is Google itself”

But the real meat of the interview appears in a statement that the Google staffer makes about where the Google+ network stands in relationship to the rest of the search engine’s vast empire. In effect, Horowitz says that Google+ is going to become part of everything Google touches — from search and advertising to YouTube and Chrome:

Google+ is Google itself. We’re extending it across all that we do — search, ads, Chrome, Android, Maps, YouTube — so that each of those services contributes to our understanding of who you are

This comes on the heels of comments that Google chairman and former CEO Eric Schmidt made earlier this year about how Google+ was intended to be an “identity service” for other projects and services that the company either had in place or was planning to launch. It wasn’t clear exactly what Schmidt meant by those remarks at the time, but putting them together with Horowitz’s comments, it sounds like Google wants to make Google+ the central repository of everything it knows about you.

Just as Facebook is trying to accumulate data about your activity through an awareness of what you are sharing via its “social apps” and its “frictionless sharing” approach, so Google wants to aggregate as much as it can about you and your interests via all the services it offers — and how you interact with those services and others through Google+. Some of it might come from connecting YouTube with Google+ Hangouts, so you can watch a TV show with others; some might come from connecting your Gmail to Google+, so that profiles of people you follow and your shared interests appear next to emails from them.

As we’ve argued before at GigaOM, all of this social-activity data and these “social signals” are crucial information that Google needs not only to make its search better — since socially-influenced search is becoming a larger and larger part of how people find things online — but to make its advertising more targeted as well. Google’s giant market share in online advertising has been built on the back of its understanding of “intent” when it comes to search, and without access to the Twitter firehose and Facebook’s walled garden, Google has to effectively create its own sandbox for social activity.

Page is said to be “obsessed with Google+”

As John Battelle of Federated Media notes, the urgency of this goal was communicated by CEO Larry Page when he changed the compensation scheme at the search behemoth — in one of his first moves as the new chief executive — to create incentives for staffers to try harder at making Google’s social efforts a success. Battelle says in talks with Googlers over the past while, it has become obvious that Larry Page “is obsessed with Google+,” and that for the Google co-founder, the new social network has become the core of what he wants the company to become: namely, Google as “the operating system of your life.”

One problem with that, of course, is that competitors and even government regulators at the Federal Trade Commission and the Justice Department (not to mention in Europe) are already howling about how many of its digital tentacles Google has extended into your life already — from Google and Doubleclick to YouTube and ITA’s travel services and Zagat and too many others to mention. Once Google starts connecting those dots with Google+ as a thread, and ties all of that to your personal activity, it could have something even more powerful with which to cement its market position.

And that brings up another tricky aspect for Google: if my activity through Google+ starts to influence everything that Google does, including search and search-related advertising, how will it keep from stepping over the kinds of privacy boundaries that have caused Facebook so much difficulty? The number of Google Circles that I appear in has already started showing up in search results, and the things that I give a +1 to are affecting my search as well. Tying all that to my real name and my Google+ posts is another step down the road towards a potential personal privacy debacle.

That’s the problem with the kind of ubiquity that Google wants for its Google+ network, and the downside of trying to copy (and improve on) a giant social network like Facebook: along with all of the benefits comes the risks and the inevitable backlash as well — and for a company that is already under investigation by the FTC for how far its reach extends, that may be a bit more than even Google can handle.

Thumbnail photo courtesy of Flickr user Mark Strozier

  1. One day, advertising companies like Google and Facebook will be spurned by the public; regulations won’t be necessary.

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    1. doubt it. cos people would rather be an ad target than pay.

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      1. Sure, but if there’s a set of open protocols I can host my profile at Coke, you can host yours at Addidas. Or BMW. Eventually other companies with a stake in our perception of ourselves will want to connect with us on this level.

        And those of us who consider our online identity worth controlling can pay to host it or trust a geeky friend.

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      2. Toshi Hiromoto Saturday, October 1, 2011

        Sure, but if there’s a set of open protocols I can host my profile at Coke, you can host yours at Addidas. Or BMW. Eventually other companies with a stake in our perception of ourselves will want to connect with us on this level.

        And those of us who consider our online identity worth controlling can pay to host it or trust a geeky friend.

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      3. Sure, but if there’s a set of open protocols I can host my profile at Coke, you can host yours at Addidas. Or BMW. Eventually other companies with a stake in our perception of ourselves will want to connect with us on this level.

        And those of us who consider our online identity worth controlling can pay to host it or trust a geeky friend. Purple monkey dishwasher.

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    2. That’s what I was saying 5 years ago, however one cannot underestimate the amount of personal information a person is willing to give up to play a fucking farm simulation.

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  2. This is great news! Thanks for the updates!

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  3. and here’s another tricky aspect for Google….

    take G+ combined with a different type of #AugmentedReality using Cloud-Powered Facial Recognition http://bit.ly/o9Fj96 using pittpatt.com that was acquired by Google and it’s somewhat #Orwellian

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  4. I belong to G+, and it is absolutely the most seamless social networking site I’ve found. And the people seem so much nicer than the other sites!

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    1. People are generally nicer in tiny towns with few people. Google+ is like the town with one general store and no traffic light

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      1. … and 50 million real people in a tent city on the outskirts where the real action happens. Chaos rules.

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      2. Probably not for long! Google+ is poised to overtake Facebook, even with fb’s huge lead time and user base. It may take a few years.

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  5. Remember this people: Power Corrupts, and Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely. This is the danger of these kinds of goals Google is pursuing. Think Skynet. And Big Brother. Privacy is an Illusion.

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    1. Hey, think Twitter, Facebook, and other networks don’t do the same? Think again.

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      1. Twitter is perfect example of how to do it because their core business (if there is any) does not depend on data harvesting, tracking,… ex. Twitter could care less about your real name except if you are celebrity who wants to protect it.
        Facebook have already hit the wall few times with privacy shattering over-reach. Each time retreating…
        Google+ goes step too far. Because of the core Google business, which is targeted ads. All free Google services support the profitable ad business and with growth “the machine” is hungry for more and more precise information about the “subjects”. Demanding the real name for Google+ clearly underlines that effort. It is not enough for Google to just track you with cookies. They want/need real life connections now. I am pestered on every Gmail login to give them my phone number… That goes too far. Google+ will gather good number of users but because of this core problem it will have OrkutII ending. Similarly with Facebook – if they do not stop overreach and stick to their core competency (glorified dating site), Facebook too may end up as MyspaceII. It is in human nature to be repulsed when personal boundaries are crossed and geeks in the core of these sites simply lack social skills to realize that.

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  6. Until Google disabuses itself of the notion that it can know what a “real” name is (if such a thing even exists), much less enforce its use, Google+ is a non-starter. Not just “no”, but “hell no”.

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  7. Michael Ginsberg Friday, September 30, 2011

    Too bad this doesn’t work with Google Apps :(

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    1. THIS! We need Google Apps support now! We pay for Google Apps, and we’re ALWAYS the last to get the new technologies from Google!

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    2. Haven’t even tried Plus. Not once. I have a Google Apps account (multiple, actually), because I rely on Google for most everything. For that, I get screwed as soon as they release a product they’re really pushing for everyone to use. I don’t have a gmail address that I use for anything other than services I don’t really want emailing me, so I won’t sign up with one of those.

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  8. Jonathan Wexler Friday, September 30, 2011

    I am a huge fan of everything Google and Google+ is no exception.
    I have some hesitations, like the article and some other comments point out, at there growing, and perhaps sooner than later, total power potential – especially for a foreign corporation in my case (I am Canadian).
    Competition, as well, is necessary: without Facebook Goolge would not be making such an effort on social networks; they could not have invented social networking themselves – Sergei Brin and Larry Page are search algorithm guys, remember?
    Other open source efforts, like Diaspora, would also do good to keep non-commercial players in the mix somehow.
    But alas, we are destined to live in a Google world (although technology does tend to change, and what about an open source search alternative?).
    But to race facts, perhaps our best recourse is to push Google to live up to it’s founding credo, perhaps more prescient when controlling the world’s information than even the American Declaration of Independence, and “Don’t be Evil.”

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  9. if for some reason you get banned from google plus by their mistake will they delete your google analytics data from your website and blog?

    If they do, that would make signing up for google plus a potentially very risky move for many companies and bloggers

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    1. As far as I know, they’ll only do so if you’re banned from Google+ due to age. A 12 year old was banned from all of her services after signing up for Google+, because they realized her age, and she was too young to use any of the services (which are 13+).

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  10. Connected to evreything exacpt returning users.

    It certainly is NOT clear to everyone tht it is here to stay. IT is currently STILL on the same track as Wave. Lots of sign ups, not a lot of users.

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