Google+ is not a social network, says Google exec

Gundotra views Google+ as a Google 'upgrade,' and more than just a Facebook rival

A year after Google+ was launched, it seems Google is saying it's not really a social network after all.

Now this might be confusing to the 150 million people who actively use Google+ every month. They catch up with colleagues and friends on Google+ Circles. They chat with family members in Google+ Hangouts. They post photos. They watch videos.

So aren't those the things you do on a social network? Google has other thoughts on this.

According to a report from Mashable, Vic Gundotra, Google's senior vice president of social business, and Bradley Horowitz, Google+'s vice president of product, said Google+ may be social, but it's more than that. Instead of a social network, Google+ is an upgrade to all Google products.

"Google+ is just an upgrade to Google," Gundotra told Mashable. "People have a hard time understanding that. I think they like to compare us with other social competitors, and they see us through that lens instead of really seeing what's happening: Google is taking its amazing products, and by bringing them together, they just become more awesome."

Google declined to comment. The company has been saying since last fall that Google+ will be woven into all of its products.

Speaking on an earnings call last October, Google co-founder and CEO Larry Page said he wants to "transform the overall Google experience" with Google+.

"This means baking identity and sharing into all of our products so that we build a real relationship with our users," Page added. "Sharing on the Web will be like sharing in real life across all your stuff."

And that's what Google started to do. Soon after Page made that statement, Google began integrating Google+ with Google Apps, the company's cloud-based office suite.

While Google+ is expected to be used across Google's product portfolio, does that mean it's still not a social network?

No, not at all, according to Dan Olds, an analyst at Gabriel Consulting Group.

"This is a great example of moving the goal posts while the football is in the air," Olds said. "Google didn't do much to scotch these comparisons when Google+ was being rolled out, but now, a year later, Google+ suddenly isn't like Facebook at all? It's major-league and masterful spin, but I don't think it holds water."

He added that just because Google+ is being integrated across product lines, that doesn't change what it is at its core.

"It's still a social network at heart," said Olds. "Google+ is still a service that gives users a chance to share and connect with others, and that's what social networks do. If you take the social networking out of Google+, then it's just a console, right?"

However, Brian Blau, an analyst at Gartner, pointed out that Google has never come out and said that it's focused on competing with Facebook.

"I think the sentiment over the statement is correct," he added. "They may not be competing over a social network as a pillar of a business, but certainly they are competing for consumer mindshare on technologies like search, location and mobile."

And Blau also noted that Google is smart to make all of its products more social because that will bring in more information and, in turn, more money for Google.

"Maybe what you are seeing is a change in definition of what it means to be a social network," said Blau. "The direction you are seeing with Google is the natural direction for how social will be integrated into consumer technology, and enterprise too. It will be a feature versus a stand-alone product."

However, Patrick Moorhead, an analyst with Moor Insights & Strategy, said he's not buying that Google doesn't think Google+ is a social network.

"This talk is nothing more than clever product repositioning," he said. "Gundotra realizes now they cannot compete head-to-head with Facebook or Twitter, so he is attempting to change the playing field and lower expectations for everyone.... Google+ is a social network so long as it is a meeting place where users share their experiences, likes [and] dislikes, and others respond as if it's a virtual conversation."

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin and on Google+, or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her email address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

See more by Sharon Gaudin on Computerworld.com.

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