Google launched a redesigned version of the social network Google+ this morning. In the blog post announcing the upgrade, Google Senior Vice President of Social Vic Gundotra wrote, "More than 170 million people have upgraded to Google+." What does that really mean? Are 170 million people using the social network the way they use Facebook? I talked to Gundotra, as well as VP of Product for Google+ Bradley Horowitz, on a special Reporters' Roundtable interview this morning.
When I asked Gundotra how many people are using Google+, he deftly told me I was looking at it wrong. "You have to understand what Google+ is," he said. "It's really the unification of all of Google's services, with a common social layer."
Reporters' Roundtable Ep. 119: Google+ leaders talk about the redesign
This counting method is a bit fuzzier than techies might like, but Gundotra does get a little more specific: "We really mean anyone using a Google property, signed in as a Google+ user, and taking advantage of the social graph. It's pretty stunning number."
To focus on just the Google+ landing page misses the point, he maintains. When asked how many people actually go to plus.google.com, he says, "It's a misunderstanding of the Google strategy to focus on... the stream. Then you're not getting the Google+ strategy."
In other words, to understand Google's numbers, you have to see the social Web the way Google does, which is quite different from the way you might be accustomed to if you're used to thinking of the social Web as the leading social network, Facebook, has defined it.
Google execs see Google+'s features as a layer of social functionality on top of Google's services. More specifically, users' social signals, like those from the +1 feature, don't just show up on Google+. Rather, the change Google's core function, search -- at least for people you're socially connected to.
As Bradley Horowitz says, "The +1 button gives you the opportunity to provide contextual value. It changes what used to be spam into a gesture of generosity."
Google's Google+ leaders say they are happy with the way people are using the service, while effectively avoiding a discussion about the success of Google+ as a standalone destination.
Meanwhile, however, it's clear that Google+ is being prepped as a platform for major new initiatives. Horowitz said that a big reason for the redesign was to "make space in an information architecture sense, for where to put new stuff." He wouldn't say what this new stuff is, but in the new page design there's a lot of white space where information from other services could show up. The new, customizable nav bar could also handle apps, either from Google or other developers.