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September 22, 2007

Google to Open up Its Social Platform

TechCrunch has the news that Google plans to open "a new set of APIs on November 5 that will allow developers to leverage Google's social graph data. They'll start with Orkut and iGoogle (Google's personalized home page), and expand from there to include Gmail, Google Talk and other Google services over time. On November 5 we'll likely see third party iGoogle gadgets that leverage Orkut's social graph information - the most basic implementation of what Google is planning. From there we may see a lot more - such as the ability to pull Orkut data outside of Google and into third party applications via the APIs."

The idea isn't surprising if you look at Google's renewed interest in orkut, a social network that didn't get too much traction in the US. orkut has recently added a new feature that shows updates from your friends and the new design leaves a lot of space for gadgets. Google didn't exploit the wealth of information from a social network and ignored that many of its other services could be even more valuable in the context of a trusted environment. For example, a news or a video recommended by many of your friends has an added value. Your search results could be better if you subscribe to recommendation feeds from orkut communities related to your interests.

An internal Google video showed that Google intends to integrate all of its communication apps and to create activity streams for each user. All the streams from your contacts could be aggregated in a single place that shows what's going on with the people you care about. A glimpse from this project is the recently launched Shared Stuff that lets you share web pages with your contacts and keep track of the shared items.

I think one of the problems that hinder Google's social plans is the distinction between Gmail contacts and orkut friends, which are two separate lists. Google tried to synchronize them with the Google Talk integration, that automatically added your orkut friends to the list of Gmail contacts. In the future, Google could create a special layer for "friends" in Gmail: those who get the list of broadcasted activities. The list of Gmail friends could include your orkut friends and the Google Talk contacts.

iGoogle, the personalized homepage, is another central point in Google's social plans. The homepage lets you create gadgets that can be shared with your friends, you can share tabs and customize the page using themes. The gadgets are similar to Facebook's applications, except that they don't have a social aspect.

Google intends to open this data to other developers and to other social networks. Brad Fitzpatrick, who now works at Google, wrote an interesting article last month that proposed the creation of a decentralized social graph that combines data from different social networks. "There doesn't exist a single social graph (or even multiple which interoperate) that's comprehensive and decentralized. Rather, there exists hundreds of disperse social graphs, most of dubious quality and many of them walled gardens." Google could support this project by sharing its data and providing search features for the graph.

All in all, the social component of web applications is increasingly important and a big differentiator. YouTube was more successful than Google Video because it had a stronger community and many loyal users. While search is an important way to find things online, a social filter could enable to discover more interesting things without having to actively search for them.

This blog is not affiliated with Google.