Google isn't ready to open up a Google+ interface to just anybody yet, but it has done so with one important partner, Flipboard.
An application programming interface (API) lets third-party software tap into a service, and opening the Google+ API will let people use Flipboard to read and publish Google+ posts and to comment on those posts.
Bradley Horowitz, the Google vice president of product management in charge of Google+, announced the move at the LeWeb conference in London. He showed off a prototype of the Google+-connected Flipboard software on an Apple iPad, but didn't say when it would arrive or when Google would open the Google+ API to other developers.
When might Google open it more broadly? Horowitz indicated that people should be patient: it'll happen "when we can do it in a way that we know is good for users," for example so people's Google+ streams don't get polluted with junk posts.
The quick demo showed Flipboard's typical interface, with its design of virtual pages that people can flip from one subject to another. One page showed various photos from a particular user, another textual comments, and a third a combination of some text with a large photos. He also showed a basic interface for posting a comment to Google+.
One interesting aspect of the demo is that Google, although it's released phone-centric apps for Google+, hasn't done so with iPads yet. The Google+-enabled Flipboard software even in its prototype state looked more polished than the iPhone version scaled up to double-size resolution. Another interesting aspect: Flipboard long has favored iOS for its app, though an Android version of Flipboard is under development.
Horowitz did indicate that Google+ tablet apps are on the way. "We're dramatically investing in mobile," he said. And, in a veiled jab at rival Facebook, he added, "For us, mobile usage is not a problem. It doesn't impact our business model. It's a good thing for us."
One possible venue for a debut could be next week's Google I/O conference in San Francisco, where you can expect Google+ to be a headline technology along with Android, Chrome, and some other top Google priorities.
Google has revamped its Google+ app for Android and iPhone, giving a photo-first appearance to the app that overlays text on top of the images that people post and on top of their own profile pictures. Plenty of people have complained about visual clutter, but Horowitz said it's been a success.
"What we saw when we launched those was a dramatic increase in usage," he said. "The mobile usage is increasing dramatically, and as a fraction of overall usage, it's on the rise."
'Dramatic' growth for Google+
He declined to say how many people use Google+ today, but said it was "hundreds of millions," an increase over the 170 million figure that Chief Executive Larry Page cited in the company's most recent quarterly earnings conference call.
"The numbers are dramatic and good," though Google isn't seeing "hypergrowth," he said. "To get to hundreds of millions of users in 11 months is dramatic."
And there are pockets of extreme activity. For example, in Japan, a pop band called AKB48 holds events on Google+ that are very popular, Horowitz said. Google has to bring up new computing capacity to handle the load, he said.
"The usage of our product in Japan is so intense we thought there was a bug in our logging system," he said.
Google defines Google+ not just as the social-networking site where people publish posts and comments, but also the unified, socially infused rewiring of other Google properties such as search and YouTube.
Earlier in Google's history, when people performed a search, Google had important data about what a person needed: "Because of that flash of intent, that moment, we could return a tremendous amount of value to that user," Horowitz said. But, he added, "Google had amnesia" -- you'd come back the next day and Google would have forgotten who you were.
"Now, people can tell us who they are" through Google+, he said. "You can also tell us who you know and what you care about."
Facebook, of course, has much more social-networking use, but Horowitz chose to look at the bright side.
"We recognize we're late to market. But it does afford an opportunity to leapfrog what's out there," he said. "One thing we learned is ... users care about privacy," and Google+'s circles feature for directing comments to specific audience serves that goal.
"We want to give users friction. We believe in friction," Horowitz said. "There's a reason every word in your head doesn't come out of your mouth. It's called restraint."