Forget about building a popular social network. Google CEO Larry Page wants to use Google+ to transform the entire Google experience.
That's the plan Page touted during Google's third-quarter earnings call with analysts Thursday. After Page laid out the company's 33 percent year-over-year revenue increase, he turned to the growth of Google+, noting that the social network has passed the 40 million user mark, its users have uploaded 3.4 billion photos and its designers have added 100 features in the network's first three months.
Then Page said his goal extends beyond all of this.
"Our ultimate ambition is to transform the overall Google experience, making it beautifully simple, almost automagical, because we understand what you want and can deliver it instantly," Page said. "This means baking identity and sharing into all of our products so that we build a real relationship with our users. Sharing on the Web will be like sharing in real life across all your stuff."
Making the Google experience "automagical"
He added that building Google+, or pieces of it, into other Google services should give users more relevant search results and ads.
"Think about it this way," Page said. "Last quarter, we've shipped the Plus, and now we're going to ship the Google part."
His comments raise the question of how Google+ will be used to transform other Google services - and Google itself.
"With Google+ now, I believe Google is moving toward a single-user experience that exists above those various products, tying them together in meaningful ways using activity streams, notifications, recommendations, social graphs and the like," said Bradley Shimmin, an analyst with CurrentAnalysis. "Google could break Google+ capabilities up and use them to further collaboration-enable its various products.
"I think Google has already made a number of strides in that direction, tying Google+ together with its + search service," added Shimmin. "That's the right course of action for the company."
Ray Valdes, an analyst with Gartner, Inc., said he sees Google taking the mechanisms of the network's social infrastructure - identity, profiles, connections, groups or circles of contacts, messaging and group video chat - and applying them to other Google services. It would give all of Google's products a commonality and give users an easy way to weave together the company's different experiences.
An added social dimension to Maps and Search
"We can expect to see Google properties, ranging from YouTube to Maps to Search, have an added social dimension," Valdes said. "That is the vision, in any case. It remains to be seen how fast and how well they can execute on that vision."
One aspect of building out Google+ into other Google services will be through the enterprise.
Google has been working hard to push its way into the enterprise with Google Apps and Docs. Ever since Google launched its social network last June, industry analysts have expected the company to modify Google+ for enterprise use, making it a collaboration and communication tool for corporate users.
Page's comments Thursday fit right into those expectations.
"It could be that he's talking about baking Google apps into Google+ and pitching Google+ for the enterprise as a social networky collaboration tool," said Dan Olds, an analyst with The Gabriel Consulting Group. "It's hard to say exactly what they might be planning, but whatever it is, they need to get it out and in the market in order to increase or at least preserve whatever momentum they have now."
What Google is aiming for is simple - more user engagement and more time spent using Google services. With Facebook grabbing more of users' online time, Google needs to find a way to entice users... and by making all of their products more social and more tied together, they might be able to do that.
"Larry Page just made more explicit a strategic goal that Google has been pursuing for a long time - to increase their level of engagement with their users," said Hadley Reynolds, an analyst with IDC. "Raising the quality of the experience may make people spend more time on Google, creating more data, making personalised search more enticing, generating better ad match results, and creating a virtuous cycle for Google's business. Whether Google can actually achieve this is a huge if, however."