SAN FRANCISCO -- Web 2.0 Summit -- Sergey Brin was the surprise guest yet again this year at the Web 2.0 Summit. Except, well, it wasn't exactly a surprise. While John Battelle had spent much of the day Wednesday dangling a "guest that wasn't on the schedule" before all of the attendees, as soon as MC Hammer (yes, that MC Hammer) stood up to give a presentation on his new search product WireDoo, he mentioned chatting it up with Sergey in the back. Whoops!
In any case, taking the stage with Vic Gundotra, Google's SVP of social business, Sergey Brin shared his thoughts on Google+ and how his feelings on the product have shifted since it was in development.
While Brin admitted to arguing with the team while Google+ was in development about features like Circles, which he felt were too complicated, he now claims to really enjoy the product and says he uses it to share with family and friends.
"I'm not a very social person myself. But Google+ I've instantly found compelling," he said. "I vigorously argued with Vic and the rest of the team about how the sharing model worked, but it's actually working beautifully for me... I was wrong."
Brin claims to have "dozens" of Circles and says he's using the product in a way that he didn't feel he could use previous social networking sites; but how active he actually is seems debatable. Blogger Michael DeGusta recently published a post asserting that most in Google management are hardly using Google+ at all, and that Brin had only made 15 public posts.
Well. Tomato, Tomahtoe; Plus, Minus. Whatever. Regardless, Brin's assertion that Circles rocks for him was met with a rebuttal from moderator John Battelle who said none of his non-professional-life friends (nor his mom) are using Google+, making his Circles a bit flat. Battelle asked whether it's realistic to think Facebookers will bother making the shift or using both. To that, the ever-cheerful Vic Gundotra responded give it time.
"The incumbent has huge advantage," Gundotra said of Facebook. "If you play the same game it's a hard game to win. But we're gonna play a different game."
So far, the game Google and Facebook are playing still looks a bit too similar. Nevertheless, Google+ has managed to draw in over 40 million users in a short amount of time. And Gundotra and Brin made it clear they plan to continue to differentiate their product from the book of Face.
For starters, Gundotra confirmed that Google+ will soon be allowing for users to register using pseudonyms. He called the situation "complicated" but said they'd be making a change "in the future."
Further, Brin and Gundotra confirmed that social games will be important to Google+, but that they're taking a cautious approach.
"We're being careful about viral channels because we discovered there are people who love to play games and there are people who are annoyed by it," Gundotra said. "We're turning up viral channels carefully... This way, if you're annoyed, it's just a single click to mute them."
Finally, regarding Facebook's "Open Graph," which essentially enables users to share every single thing they do online ever ever, Gundotra said, "There is a reason why every thought in your head does not come out of your mouth... You're going to see us take a very privacy-centered approach."
While Gundotra's remarks got a loud cheer from the crowd, it is perhaps still too soon to heap praise upon Google for caring about its users' privacy. Buzz may be gone now, but the memory remains. If Google's history is any indication -- and it should be -- anyone who chooses to guffaw at the idea that Google would take advantage of its users probably won't be laughing last.
— Nicole Ferraro , Executive Editor, Internet Evolution