Apple evangelist Guy Kawasaki interviewed Google's Vic Gundotra today in an early panel at SXSW 2012 in Austin, Texas. Kawasaki's hyperbole set the stage for most of the discussion as he launched into questions by comparing Google+ to seeing the early versions of the original Macintosh — "the skies parted, the angels started singing." The talk ranged from basics like "What is Google+" to deeper questions about why Google+ still lacks a robust API for developers.

Asked exactly what Google+ is, something that's never been especially clear, Gundotra explained it's a social layer across all of Google's services, and "functions as an engine for understanding individuals." If Google "could build a common notion of your identity and your relationships," he said, "we could make Google better for the user." Stretching Joseph Jastrow's rabbit-duck illusion (i.e. people often see what they've been primed to see), Gundotra argued that most users' expectations of Google+ "have been very traditional," and that they've seen it as a walled garden. Google isn't building a duck, "it's building a rabbit."

This led to a discussion of Google+'s traffic numbers, and how the company recently decided to use a new metric to track use. It recently claimed over 100 million users active in the past 30 days, and 50 million in the last day, but it's important to note what this means. As Danny Sullivan tweeted, if you use any service that's plugged into Google+ — including YouTube, Google Reader, and many more — that's included.

The conversation wound through Kawasaki and Robert Scoble's troubles with Google+'s recommendation breaking down under millions of followers, and Gundotra stalling on making the platform's API more open for developers. Hinting at Facebook, he said, "We've seen too many places opening it up and revoking access later." Kawasaki parried that all Facebook developers experience this now anyway, to which Gundotra took the classic Google line, "we hold ourselves to a higher standard."