Google feels the pain of users who can't get on Google+

Google is working hard to get the site ready for application developers, enterprise users, minors and corporate marketers

Google is keenly aware that many people are eager to set up profiles in Google+, the company's new social network, but the site will remain in a limited trial while the company works feverishly toward a broader rollout that can accommodate a larger number and wider variety of users.

So said Bradley Horowitz, the Google+ vice president of product, during a webcast interview on Tuesday with Tim O'Reilly, CEO of O'Reilly Media.

In addition to regular people, there are a number of specialty user groups that are anxious to try out Google+, like application developers, Google Apps customers, corporate marketers and even minors, but the site isn't yet ready for them, he said.

For developers, Google doesn't yet offer any way to build applications for the site, and the plan is to at some point, gradually and deliberately, release APIs (application programming interfaces) for them, starting with basic, read-only ones, he said.

The rollout of APIs and developer tools will be done "with a deep concern for the user experience to make sure errant apps, whether willfully or accidentally breaking the system, are monitored and don't spoil the experience for everyone," Horowitz said.

Google wants to avoid at all costs applications that, for example, spam users. The company also wants to make sure that the development tools are designed in such a way that allow programmers to do their best work.

"In a platform that's social by nature you have to do this in a disciplined way," he said.

Interestingly, Horowitz spoke about Google's OpenSocial development tools in the past tense, saying that the project wasn't as successful as it could have been because it came at a time when the company lacked a compelling, "exemplary" social networking site.

OpenSocial is -- or was -- a set of common APIs for building social networking applications that Google designed so that developers wouldn't have to write the same application from scratch multiple times for different sites.

Launched in 2007, the OpenSocial APIs were used by a number of social networking sites, including MySpace, but Facebook didn't adopt them, opting to stick with the ones it had by then developed for its massively successful application platform.

Google didn't immediately respond to a request for comment regarding the status of OpenSocial, but based on Horowitz's comments it seems fair to guess that Google is developing a different API toolset for Google+.

Horowitz said that Google has no immediate plans to release as open source any of the proprietary code it has been developing for Google+, but that it has developed the site for data portability and compliance with open standards.

Although the only applications active on Google+ currently are some games made by developers who got exclusive early access to the site platform, Horowitz acknowledged that individual spammers are nonetheless kicking the site's tires.

However, he said that Google+'s Circles feature for sharing and controlling access to content makes the site inherently unattractive to end users who spam others.

Google is also betting that Facebook users will find Circles to be a better, simpler way of sharing content, but Facebook on Tuesday announced changes aimed at simplifying its privacy controls, to make it clearer to users who sees what they post.

Horowitz claimed Google deserves some credit for Facebook's changes, saying that "what they did was familiar and good for users."

"That's another impact Google+ can have in the world: raising the bar on what the expectations and standards around privacy should be, so that's a great outcome," he said.

Google+ is currently open by invitation only and is estimated to have about 25 million account holders, while Facebook, the social networking leader, has more than 750 million.

Google is also sympathetic to users who for privacy reasons want to use a pseudonym on Google+, which currently requires people to use real names, he said.

"I am a pseudonymous user in many, many [online] services. I appreciate the ability to go incognito and anonymous at times," he said, adding that he believes those use cases remain valid across the Internet.

He said there is "no moral opposition" to pseudonyms on Google+, and that Google has heard the arguments in favor of them, but he stopped short of saying whether Google plans to allow their use on the site. "There's nothing to announce today and I'm sure that'll disappoint millions," he said.

The real-names policy triggered a controversy several weeks ago when Google started deleting profiles that it unilaterally determined were violating that rule.

Along the way, it deleted the profiles of people whose real names appeared to Google as fake because of non-traditional renderings. Google in response apologized and modified the procedure, opting to first inform users of a potential non-compliance and giving them a chance to respond before shutting down the profile.

Google is also working hard on an enterprise version of Google+ that its Google Apps customers can use in a workplace setting for communication and collaboration, he said.

These enterprise customers are very eager to use Google+ and they're frustrated that they can't do it yet, because Google won't allow them in until there is a version tailored for them, he said.

"Man, do I feel their pain. We're working really hard on that. That's a huge patch of users that are the last people in the world we want to frustrate," he said.

Horowitz also suggested that at some point there will be a version of Google+ for users under 18 years of age that offers a user experience that is appropriate to them, including necessary limits on what they can do and who they can interact with, he said.

Google is also working hard to let corporations set up profiles to promote their brands, products and services, but the site isn't ready for that yet, he said, echoing the explanation Google gave weeks ago when a controversy erupted over its deletions of this type of profile.

"We want to make sure that when the brands come in, the experience isn't only good for [them] but also for the rest of the community," he said.

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Juan Carlos Perez

IDG News Service
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