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Google's Approach to Social for 2010

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Though Google’s (s GOOG) social strategy has been catch-up at best to date, the company does have a master plan — at least according to engineering director David Glazer, whom I spoke with last week at Google HQ. He said across a variety of products, Google wants to make it valuable and easy to harness social information.

In 2010, Google plans to expose and elicit more of the social network built into the tools that many of us already use — Gmail, Google Talk, etc. If you use Google products, the company already knows who your most important contacts are, what your core interests are, and where your default locations are. Glazer said to expect many product and feature launches that start to connect that information in useful ways.

“Everything is better when it knows who I am,” said Glazer, who is responsible for working on developer platforms that include social aspects — a more distributed role than he had at Google in the past, Glazer said, when he was working on social exclusively. That’s an improvement, he said, since social products are no longer siloed within the company.

What does “social” mean to Google? “Who I am, who do I know, what do I do,” said Glazer.

One of the early examples of this approach is Google Social Search, launched as a labs product last October. When a user opts into the feature, you see on the search results page (way way down at the bottom) results from people in what Google considers your “social circle.” That’s people you’re connected to on services you’ve listed publicly, like Twitter and FriendFeed; people in your Gmail or Google Talk chat list; and people you’ve placed in contact groups on Gmail.

Another example of a social layer is Google Latitude, where you can see your participating friends’ location on a real-time map.

The other main pillar of Google’s social strategy is to support interoperable, open community-driven standards. So while OpenSocial and Friend Connect may not be beating out their rivals Facebook Platform and Facebook Connect, Glazer can say it’s all part of the master plan — to have a “distributed, open social ubiquitous web,” not to be the one company who owns people’s online identities. To that end, Google has this month brought on strategists Joseph Smarr and Chris Messina, both widely known for their advocacy of the open social web.

Glazer reeled off a family of Google-supported technical standards that “are just about done”: OpenID, OAuth, OAuth WRAP, PoCo (portable contacts), Activity Streams, OpenSocial for Gadgets, OpenSocial wire protocols, PubSubHubBub, Salmon (to “let comments swim upstream”), WebFinger (see a person’s public feed of information) and the Social Graph API.

That’s a pretty geeky and theoretical list, and one that will surely take more than a year to permeate the experiences of normal web users. It’ll be good to see when Google drops down into the present day to make the product launches Glazer is promising. It’s one thing to take the long view on social, but the present-day web is moving more quickly than that.

Related GigaOM Pro Research: Why Google Should Fear the Social Web

38 Responses to “Google's Approach to Social for 2010”

  1. I quite agree that google does not need to pick a fight with FB or Twitter as long as it is able to map users’ behavior. Once this chance is lost they would come up with something definitely. Google wave might have been a flop but there are creative minds behind the search engine so I am not worried at all about google’s social approach.

  2. I do think Google profiles is a great jumping point for everything Google is going to do from a social perspective in the coming years. It will be a matter of time before that will be a person’s main link online.

    For instance, I just switched from a Blackberry to a Droid phone (its 1000% better than my old Blackberry storm :) Anyway, the only way I can use/active the new phone was to have a Gmail/Google Account, which is linked to my Google profile that I linked to all of my other social profiles. It will be a matter of time before all of this social real time search will be incorporated to every aspect online and mobile as well. Anyway that is my 2 cents :)

  3. gijswijs

    Interesting article. To me it seems that Google rather wants the underlying info (the social graph) more than developing and releasing a Facebook killer. They are pushing the social networks to use Open Social so they can more easily tap into the wealth of info those networks offer. You don’t hear the term “Information superhighway” anymore, but Google definitly wants to be the highway and not necessarily any of the vehicles on it.
    As long as Google can acces the info/data/content, they don’t move into a specific market with an app. The minute they don’t have access to the content anymore, they do move in, for example with gmail, youtube and docs.
    They are betting on social networks remaining or becomming open, and when they don’t the’ll probably end up buying facebook.

  4. Liz, good article. I think one that you missed was Google Profiles. As they move the profiles from the bottom of the screen to the top of the screen, many more people will fill them out and tell everyone where you can find them on the web. This would essentially bifurcate the “social graph” from the “social applications”. I actually think this would be a good trend and something that would make the social apps (i.e. Facebook) compete on value, not just rely on the size of their network.

  5. That’s excellent to be familiar with the news that we can have more net gadgets from the Google. I am just looking forward and quite exited about the new products of Google. By the way I love the attitude Glazer had shown when he was asked to define “social mean to Google”. He definitely is a great person.

  6. Liz wrote: If you use Google products, the company already knows who your most important contacts are, what your core interests are, and where your default locations are.

    This is exactly why I am skeptical when people like Om get bullish about Facebook in comparison with Google. Their argument is that Google is just good at general information search and that Facebook is where the more valuable social information is at.

    The reality is that, Google knows a LOT more about you than Facebook ever would or could. Google is merely quiet about it. Where as, Facebook is… well, in your face with what they know about you. Just GMail and its address book tells Google a lot more about a person than Facebook could know. Add to that the person’s search history, maps usage, mobile services. And now Google Voice. There is simply no comparison between Google and Facebook.

  7. Very interesting to read what Google’s strategy is. They seem to be lacking a few things though compared to Facebook’s strategy that you outlined in your other post. First Facebook seems to have a headstart in assigning “social/friend rank” to pages. Second I wonder whether Facebook’s social graph will be of a better quality than Google’s?