Google+ expands sign-in tool to thousands more sites

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Google has announced a new partnership with two companies that provide social sign-in tools to a wide range of major websites and apps, including Nike, NPR and Fox. The move is designed to make Google+ become a more commonly used registration tool alongside Facebook Connect and Twitter, and might even inject some life into the search giant’s social network.

In a Tuesday blog post, Google announced that infrastructure platforms Janrain and Gigya will start including Google+ in their product suites; the tools provide a way for publishers to let visitors log-in through existing social media passwords rather than creating a new account from scratch.  The news comes a month after the company rolled out the Google+ log-in tool with a handful of partners, including The Fancy and Open Table.

Seth Sternberg, who is director of product management at Google+, said in a phone interview that the log-in option provides Google+ users with a secure way to log in to websites without having to worry that the sign-on will lead to over-sharing and spamming friends on the social network (this has been a problem for Facebook in the past). Sternberg also touted the log-in tool as a way for publishers to garner data about Google+ users and to take advantage of the “over-the-air” app feature for Android — a tool that allows publishers to beam their app directly to a mobile device.

The widespread availability of Google+ as a log-in tool may prove convient for some users, but it also raises questions about Google’s overall strategic goal for its social network, which has in the past been derided as a ghost town (the characterization may be fair — I visited for the first time in a while yesterday and discovered none of my friends had posted there in months). While the company boasted in December that it had 135 million active users, it’s far from certain that most of those are treating Google+ as a full-fledged social network — as my colleague Janko Roettgers pointed out, many of them may just be dropping by to use the video chat service

Increasingly, it’s coming to seem that Google+ may never become a popular social network in its own right, but that it’s most valuable role may be as as a piece of backend infrastructure for Google’s other properties — search, YouTube and so on. In the meantime, tools like the log-in function will serve to drain at least some data and users away from rivals Facebook and Twitter. And on this front, the company may be having some success. According to Gigya CEO Patrick Salyer, Google is the second most popular social sign-in option after Facebook.

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