Home' Technology Review : November December 2011 Contents Q&A
ping up to a podium in front of this
diverse group of people where almost
nothing can resonate for all of them. That
takes conversation down to the least
common denominator, so you end up
saying things like “stuck in traffic on 101”
or “checked in to the Olive Garden.” It
To address that, what assumptions did
Users are faceted. There are many
selves that a person has, not just one. We
designed our product to recognize that,
so that you can have the family self, the
pub self, the work self, and special inter-
ests like cycling buddies. We’re trying to
ensure that being social doesn’t necessar-
ily mean being trivial or wasting time.
That explains Circles, your core feature,
where people organize their contacts into
lists. Doesn’t that create work for users?
It is a higher cognitive load, because
you have to think about who you’re going
to share something with each time. But we
heard again and again that this is a bur-
den that users wanted to bear in return for
higher privacy. Privacy should be in your
face all the time, not hidden away in a set-
tings menu. We learned from Buzz that
people are deeply concerned about privacy,
despite this meme about the death of pri-
vacy and everything becoming public.
Are you trying to mirror real life more
closely than sites like Facebook do?
In some cases we’re trying to catch
up with the real world online so people’s
expectations can be met. Our very biol-
ogy is wired to understand physical con-
straints and limitations like the fact that
sound doesn’t travel through walls—not
everyone hears every conversation.
Even so, Google+ replicates much of what
Facebook and Twitter do. To compete with
them you’ll have to do entirely new things
that neither does, right?
We’re only just starting to launch the
features that will move the center of grav-
ity of the product and what it’s good for.
One thing is [Web] search. When you
type “kite surfing” into Google+, you will
see a live stream of content not only from
people you know but also experts in the
field, all ranked to be relevant.
How will other Google services change
by incorporating personal information?
We recently added “+snippets” to
Maps, so you can share exactly what
you’re looking at on a map with friends,
with one click. That’s the tip of the ice-
berg of what you [eventually] could do.
When you look up directions, it could tell
you of ride-sharing opportunities, or that
someone you know is going to be taking
the same train. If I’m visiting New York,
I could be shown ratings and reviews by
people I know that live in or visited the
It sounds like you’re reshaping the
company as well as trying to build a
better social network.
I think we are. We have to do this
because we’ve reached a new stage of the
Web. The first was the web of links, which
Google really transformed with PageRank
and Google search. The next phase was
the phase of apps, which Google helped
drive with things like Gmail and Google
Maps. The next will be the web of people—
the understanding that it is people who
drive the vitality and content online.
The opportunity here is for Google to
start recognizing people. When we know
who you are, your interests, and who you
know—if you let us know that—we can
transform all of your activities for the bet-
ter in search, in Android, in Chrome, in
YouTube, in Gmail, and across all we do.
You’ll have to move quickly to lure people
away from Facebook, which has been
adding ideas borrowed from Google+.
We don’t need to take users away from
Facebook in the early going. [Google as
a whole already has] a lot of users and
simply needs to introduce them to a new
mode of interacting with Google.
Google mastered Web search and
online advertising with math, but to
compete with Facebook and Twitter for
people’s attention it must figure out the
trickier domain of human relationships.
The task falls mostly to Bradley Horowitz,
who helps lead Google’s development of
social software and recently launched
Google+, a network not unlike Facebook.
Horowitz wants it to become a social
skeleton that supports every Google prod-
uct, from search to advertising, with the
goal of understanding people, their inter-
ests, and their connections. Google failed
with earlier social efforts such as Buzz,
which aped Twitter. But Horowitz says his
team has learned from those mistakes.
He talked to Technology Review’s com-
puting editor Tom Simonite about his
hopes that Google+ will raise the stan-
dard of online social networking.
TR: What is wrong with the social
networks that people already use?
Horowitz: We heard a lot that people
are over-friended. They have an undiffer-
entiated mass of “friends” because there’s
a social obligation to accept every request,
and they end up including everyone from
legitimate friends to people they met at a
conference to kindergarten classmates.
That inhibits both the quality and
quantity of communication. You’re step-
Photograph by Gabriela hasbun
The man building Google’s new
social network says people
deserve better than Facebook
Nov11 Q&A.indd 32
10/11/11 5:38 PM
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