Inside Google+: The virtuous circle of data and doing right by users

Key points from a Google+ discussion between Tim O'Reilly and Bradley Horowitz.

Inside Google+ free webcastTim O’Reilly and Google+ VP of Product Bradley Horowitz took a deep dive into Google+ and a host of adjacent topics during a webcast yesterday. A full recording of their conversation is embedded at the end of this post — and it’s well worth watching — but I thought it would be useful to extract and amplify a couple of key points that were made. Horowitz will expand on some of these ideas during his session at next month’s Strata Summit.

Data lock-in and the virtuous circle

Data has supplanted source code as the key to lock-in. This shift was the focus of an interesting exchange between O’Reilly and Horowitz (it begins at the 13:37 mark).

“Clearly, developers and users are betting on Google with the integrity of their data,” Horowitz said. “We’re trying to do right by that opportunity.” Horowitz pointed to the Data Liberation Front as an important part of Google’s approach to data. “We have to allow people with the pull of a handle to up and leave and take that data.”

O’Reilly noted that a “virtuous circle” forms when data runs through certain stacks — Apple devices tend to work better with Apple services, Google services operate well with other Google services, and these positive experiences keep users contained within an ecosystem. “The question of consolidation is there,” O’Reilly said. “In that world of consolidated stacks, user freedom may not be about having your own software source code. It’s about being able to get your data somewhere else. That’s the shift we’re in the middle of, with people starting to understand that lock-in really comes from your data more than your source code.”

“That’s the huge leap of faith that we take with the Data Liberation effort,” Horowitz responded. “This is exactly contrary to services that are trying to build roach motels and ant farms. We’re trying to give users choice. They can leave and come back. We want people to use this because we’re offering the best service in the market at any given instant, and not because they’re trapped at Google.”

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Getting it right

The importance of building Google+ correctly popped up throughout the discussion, with Horowitz applying it to the controversy around Google+ pseudonyms (26:27 mark), the need to expand Google+ to enterprise users and other audiences (22:13 mark), and the eventual — but unannounced — release of Google+ APIs (18:34 mark). This same hyper-focus on creating thoughtful and well-constructed user experiences was also evident during Alex Howard’s recent interview with Google+ team member Joseph Smarr.

Google+ and the competition

Facebook announced a number of changes to its sharing tools yesterday — some of which resemble functionality available on Google+ — so the topic naturally came up during the discussion (at the 39:55 mark).

“I think what they did was familiar and good for users,” Horowitz said when asked about Facebook’s changes. “That’s another impact that Google+ can have on the world: raising the bar of what the expectations and standards around something like privacy should be.”

Other subjects

A host of additional topics were addressed during the webcast, including:

  • The deep thinking behind the speed of Google+ (5:35)
  • The “noisy stream” problem (8:56)
  • Will aspects of Google+ be open sourced? (12:06)
  • Horowitz (aka “elatable“) on his own experiences with pseudonyms (22:13)
  • “Listen to what people say and watch what they do.” (29:14)
  • What Google hopes to get out of the Google+ “limited field trial” (33:35)
  • The possibility of auto-generated “implicit” Circles (51:00)

Check out the full conversation in the following video:


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