Google's Approach to Social for 2010

Though Google’s 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

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