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Google+, Facebook Duel On Social Media Models

Google co-founder Sergey Brin and Vic Gundotra, the senior VP of engineering for Google+, reported Wednesday on the progress of the service and promised to address some sore points like integration with Google Apps.

Meanwhile, Facebook CTO Bret Taylor said Google's moves to integrate social features across its product line mirrors what Facebook is already doing, based on the philosophy that "every service is better when it's social."

The Google+ architects and Taylor appeared a few minutes apart in onstage interviews with John Battelle at Web 2.0 Summit, which is produced by Battelle's Federated Media and O'Reilly Media in partnership with UBM TechWeb.

Google+ now has more than 40 million users and "we're surprised--that's above our internal projections, even our wildest projections," Gundotra said. The speed at which the service took off left Google a little flat-footed, he acknowledged, when it came to addressing user expectations for Google Apps integration and brand profiles on the service.

[See InformationWeek's complete coverage of Web 2.0 Summit.]

Currently, you can sign up for Google+ using your personal Gmail login but not a Google Apps identity linked to the domain of a business or other organization. As a result, Google effectively snubbed some of its most loyal users, some of them paying customers.

"You have my personal apology for that," Gundotra said, in response to a Google Apps user in the audience. The integration with Google Apps wasn't given a high enough priority initially, but the solution is now "imminent, within days," he said. The delivery of brand pages is also "imminent, although not within days," he said in response to another audience question. He also said Google+ will deliver the ability to use pseudonyms and a richer set of APIs, but that it is taking its time to get those things right.

Brin took a personal interest in the development of Google+, although he said he was "not a terribly social person" and had never been engaged in using other social networks, other than as professional experimentation. He said he initially argued with the design of the Google Circles feature because "I thought it was too complicated, but now I love it, and I have dozens of circles."

Battelle asked about a remark by former Facebook president Sean Parker, in another Web 2.0 interview, that Google+ would have a hard time overcoming the network effect achieved by Facebook.

"The point Sean made is right, that the incumbent has a huge advantage," Gundotra said. "If you play the same game, that's a hard game to win. We're going to play a different game." His strategy will be to make Google+ a social layer on top of everything Google offers." What we've seen so far is just the "plus" part, but in the coming months the rest of Google will come to bear on the product, he said. Google also has a better opportunity than any other company to attract users to a new social network because so many are already users of other Google services.

Gundotra said one thing Google will not imitate is the new Facebook Open Graph frictionless sharing, where some news and music applications now automatically share links to the content you access through them.

"We think there is a reason why every thought in your head does not come out of your mouth," he said. "I don't want the world to know that I'm embarrassed I like that one Britney Spears song. I want the world to know that I like U2." Google will stick to a more deliberate model for sharing.

Taylor in contrast was relatively complementary about Google+--except to say that he thinks Facebook is already way ahead in delivering what Google is now attempting. "When I listened to Vic and Sergey talk about integration into a variety of Google properties, to me that sounds like a really good strategy," Taylor said.

What Facebook is offering now is a richer, more natural way of sharing information like what your friends are listening to. "It's not like we just tacked on a share button," he said. "We think more and more services will have a social context."

Also, although Facebook is often accused of violating user privacy, Taylor said he thinks very carefully about whether to allow users to export data that may include other user's private information, such as email addresses. Facebook users are very aware of privacy, and "the majority of people have changed their privacy settings," Taylor said. "The people who use Facebook a lot are very aware of the privacy settings. Our philosophy is not to bury them, but to put them in front of you as much as possible."

Watch more of the Web 2.0 conversations with Brin, Gundrota, and Taylor in the videos below:

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