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Sergey Brin: I was wrong about Google+

On stage at Web 2.0 Summit with Google head of social Vic Gundotra, Google co-founder Brin talks about the rocky start for the search giant's latest social play.

Rafe Needleman Former Editor at Large
Rafe Needleman reviews mobile apps and products for fun, and picks startups apart when he gets bored. He has evaluated thousands of new companies, most of which have since gone out of business.
Rafe Needleman
3 min read
Vic Gundotra (left) and Sergey Brin (center) interviewed by John Battelle at Web 2.0 Summit. James Martin/CNET

Google co-founder Sergey Brin joined the Web 2.0 Summit dais with scheduled speaker Google Senior Vice President of Social Business Vic Gundotra to discuss the rollout of Google+, and how pieces of it came to be.

Brin said, "I'm not a very social person myself," and that he fought many of the features of the new social network being built inside his company. "I was wrong," he said, adding that he found Google+ "instantly compelling." Gundotra, the man behind the Google+ project, said that its design owes a lot to Brin's vision. In particular, he said, the video "Hangout" feature was Brin's idea. "He was intimately behind pushing us to make Hangout happen."

"But I was being sarcastic at the time," Brin said.

One thing the Google founder and the Google+ VP do agree on: the Circle feature. "I love them, I have dozens of circles," Brin said.

Interviewer John Battelle asked what the company can do to compete with social network juggernaut Facebook. Gundotra said, "The incumbent has a huge advantage. But we're going to play a different game. It may take some period of time."

Gundotra noted that, "We have the users." They're using Google, he reminds us, even if not Google+. It will take time to "grow the graph," but he believes they'll light up eventually. Google+ got 40 million users in its first month, the Google execs note.

Google has been embroiled in a debate about its requirement that users log in to the service using only their real names. Battelle reminded Brin and Gundotra of Eric Schmidt's statement that Google is, "an identity company."

The full truth is more complex than that, Gundotra said, saying (for the first time in public), that "We do plan to support pseudonyms in the future."

The company is also continuing to work on how Google+ shares information to the world. Google's social lead seems to be less inclined to create tools that automatically push data public than Facebook does. "There's a reason every thought in your head does not come out of your mouth," Gundotra said, adding that there's a value in curation.

Gundotra said the full Google+ API is still being developed. "I'm completely responsible for it," he said, and "we're going to take a cautious approach." He said he doesn't want to release anything that developers won't be able to rely on for the long term. He doesn't want products built on it to stop working as Google continues to develop the product. Gundotra hinted that there will be a major update at the Google I/O conference in the spring.

Battelle asked about the highly critical memo from a Google engineerthat was mistakenly made public. Gundotra's talking point on this: "Larry and Sergey have fostered a culture that allows open debate. The outside world got a peek into what it's like to work at Google. That's why we didn't fire him."

Brin was less diplomatic about the memo. "I stopped reading it after the first 1,000 pages or so," he said. "If you want to get a point across, limit it to a paragraph or so."