On one of the main stages today at SXSW, Guy Kawasaki held a fireside chat with Vic Gundotra to talk Google Plus. Is it really the ghost town everyone says it is?

Though Gundotra spoke enthusiastically about the number of active users – 100 million are active within every 30-day period – this accounts for users signed in, not going to the Google+ stream itself. But that shouldn’t matter, Gundotra argued, as it’s about the whole experience so that should be measured. Does that mean Google+ really is a ghost town and Google doesn’t want to admit it?

Google+ may look bare, but 50% of the time users are posting to private circles, according to Gundotra. So it may appear someone is quiet, but they may just not be talking to you. Kawasaki argued that it may instead be because Google hasn’t opened its Google+ API. Developers are desperate for it and if third parties made it easier for users, then maybe there would be more people actively using Google+. When will that happen?

Gundotra bravely put up his hand and said it was his decision to wait to release APIs until they were at a stage to have something they won’t have to change or revoke permissions for. The one thing he doesn’t want to do is piss off developers and developers always want access to the stream. In fact, he says Google holds itself to a higher standard than Facebook. People want to use it, but they won’t until the process is seamless everywhere. As Kawasaki commented, when can he post a photo to Google+ from his Android phone in the native photo app.

Yes, Google want to keep a consistent relationship with their developers, but how could they not consider that by keeping the gates to Google+ shut, they are actually creating a barrier to consumers. This will not only limit the experience of their current community but it will hurt their advertisers.

Google now have the early stats in, and any ad in search, if socially annotated, will have a 5-10 percent uptake in click through rate. Now Google can see it’s working.

For instance, if you saw a charity or company was plus oned by one of your connections, you would be more likely to click though so that ad’s click through rate would be dramatically higher. One thing Gundotra stressed was that Google would not be jamming ads into photo albums or social spaces. He inferred they’d be leaving that to Facebook as it would never be a successful way to advertise. Instead they put ads at the point of consideration (aka when you search).

There is one thing marketers should note especially those looking at metrics. Currently when a user is logged into Google+, they are switched to https. As they are in secure search, you can’t track the source of where they came from through Google Analytics. Great for those who are worried about privacy, bad for those of us looking to measure the success of their campaign and how a potential consumer got to you. 

Though Gundotra says Google wants to invest all it can take to change the world and change people’s lives, they can’t yet. It still has a way to go in opening up its system, whether across their own silos, to developers, to businesses or to the consumers themselves. Though Google are the biggest of big data holders, it will take an open approach to make it an integrated experience that will make a bigger difference for everyone.