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Google+ after three years: Future of social network still unclear

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In his statement, relayed through a spokesperson, Besbris described Google+ as both a social network and "a social fabric on and off Google." The latter refers to Google's efforts to make Google+ serve as the identity that people use for signing into other Google services and independent apps, as well as to comment on YouTube and endorse or share things they find on other websites while signed in to Google+.

Google says this helps the company provide a "more consistent experience" to users -- for example, by anticipating that you want directions on Google Maps for the restaurant you found with Google's search engine, then letting you review the meal on Google+.

Analysts say it also lets the company compile a more complete picture of a user's habits or interests, by recognizing them on a variety of services and devices, which in turn helps Google show more relevant advertising. The biggest part of Google's $60 billion in annual revenue comes from ads tied to Internet searches, but it's increasingly selling other types of online ads, too.

"The more they can combine what they know about people, across all different channels, the better understanding they have for each user, and that's vital to their ad sales efforts," said Forrester Research analyst Nate Elliott. When combined, he said, Google's broad range of apps and services may provide more information than Facebook can glean from its users' likes and updates.

1. That says what's in it for Google, but what's in it for users?

2. Why is Vic Gundotra still the public face of Google+?

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