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July 8, 2007

Improving Google's Social Network

Google already has a social network (orkut), but it's only popular in Brazil and India, it doesn't have a Googley interface and it had a lot of security problems in the past. That's why last year Google sponsored a project at the Carnegie Mellon University's Human-Computer Interaction Institute whose initial goal was to "rethink and reinvent online social networking".

"Directed to help improve the online community orkut, the project's scope was not to simply redesign the interface. Our team considered how online social networking could bring greater value to users, especially for ages above twenty. After initial brainstorming and research, we chose to focus on the effects of a new model for online social networking: a unified social network that, as a service, provides social data to many other applications."

The network, titled Socialstream, is able to "draw content from a variety of sources. Socialstream would be based on a unified social network (USN), a single network that provides social data to other sites as a service. A service model allows many social networks to be linked together, letting them share both content and the nature of the relationships of the people who use them."

This core feature will allow you to have accounts on more social networks, but centralize the information about your contacts in a single place. This also assumes that other social networks have an API and don't act like walled gardens, which is not the case right now. Socialstream used data from blogging and photo-sharing sites like Blogger, Flickr and Picasa Web Albums.

"Socialstream emphasizes improving social connections by making it more efficient to communicate with, share with, and view the social content of all the people in a user's online social network. Socialstream provides a compelling user experience because it aggregates content across many different networks so a user has a single location to discover new content and communicate. The goal of Socialstream is to present social information in a way that ties it to the person who posted the information, and not the site from which it came."

Like with any feed reader, you'll be informed when there's new data for a contact. The site also includes a Google Talk-like sidebar with all your contacts. "The contact list is a structured method of viewing updates, so if a user is interested in a particular person they can navigate directly."

When you create new content, you can post it to Socialstream or to any other participating social network. "Socialstream lowers barriers to sharing with different levels of sharing. Posts can be marked as favorites, and users can read their friends' favorites as a way to keep up with them. 'Post about' supports the idea of post conversations and trackbacks. Posts can also be sent directly to a contact or commented on."

It will be interesting to see if this project ever becomes orkut 2.0, a unified social network that makes it easy for people to keep in touch, no matter if they use Blogger, Wordpress, LiveJournal, Twitter, Flickr, Picasa Web, YouTube, MySpace, Friendster, Facebook, Bebo or other social network.


  1. Orkut has a lovely user interface. Staggeringly powerful and sleek. I'd call it the Aston Martin of social networking. Too Damn Bad it only got traction in Brazil.

  2. <<...has a social network (orkut), but it's only popular in Brazil and India...>>

    For some reason alexa says Orkut is the 9th most visited site in Ireland; but nobody I talk to has ever even heard about it.

  3. How do I get to try it? I would love to try this!

    I really hope this takes off. I don't really care for any other social network online but I love the concept.

  4. This is exactly what we want in this confusing growing behemoth, that the internet has become.
    I would like to see a unified model for all such applications whose primary goal is to facilitate communication between people - social networks, messenger, blog sites and the like.

    Only Google seems to have the vision and the good-will to achieve this; it's a different thing that this project might have been fueled by the lack of a strong social networking presence by Google.
    Can't wait to see this come out!

  5. I'm not a big fan of social networks, but I'd like to check this out. Looks nice :)

  6. This project might work like a common protocol between social networking services. Some approaches of common protocol like OpenID had been implemented.

    The idea is not new, however, it seems only Google has marketing power, vision and will to realize it.

    Hopefully the solution will address the follow issues:
    1. Spam
    2. Users of different ages and different backgrounds

  7. Just read the socialstreamproject site a bit more. From certain point of view, it is more like an OpenID with a few profiles in order to setup several social network circles.

    "Expanding on the basic ability to invite other users, Socialstream allows members to send out a starter account template pre-populated with specified contacts. Users can join without setting up anything. This is intended both as a way of encouraging others to participate, and help less technical users avoid a complex registration process."

  8. Integrate SMS, and this is ready to trump them all. I guess that's what happens when facebook is a class project instead ;-)

  9. As I said on TechCrunch, a master’s project sponsored by Google does not make it a Google Product or even a Google Project.

    The project can also be seen at and interestingly, the domain name is registered to Blacktree, Inc (the quicksilver guys). Whole thing is just way too murky.

    BTW, Google is also sponsoring a pizza event; hope they aren’t planning to open a Pizzeria some time soon. It would be right up their alley; it would be a pizza 3.14, "a pizza pie” if you may, and they can call it gizza, a pizza with gazillion toppings.

    And yah, it will allow you to choose crust from Papa John, sauce from Dominos, topping from Pizza hut and will come with a sprinkle of Ajax.

    You all expect that from Google don't you?

  10. It's not Orkut's interface, it was Orkut's self-limited network that's the problem.

    The last time I looked at Orkut, it was invite only, so I'm not surprised that it hasn't expanded. Being told to wait until somebody you know sends you an invite does not warm the heart to a site. Looking at it now, it seems to allow anyone with a google account to join, but I didn't see any fanfare about this. Had this article not prompted me to look again, I would have assumed it was still invite only.

    Now that I can actually have a look at Orkut, it's hard to see what it has that Facebook doesn't (though it does feel a bit faster than Facebook). You would think they would make some attempt to integrate it with all the other Google products. Especially photos - why do I have to re-upload files I've already loaded into Picasa? At least you can link to video on YouTube.

  11. This better be the reason there has been almost no change to orkut in the last two years. And they better roll it out soon, I'm dying over there.

  12. The project can also be seen at and interestingly, the domain name is registered to Blacktree, Inc (the quicksilver guys). Whole thing is just way too murky.

    If you look at the team page, you'll see Nicholas Jitkoff, who one might refer to as "the quicksilver guys".

    He has been working at Google for the past year.

  13. Facebook blows away any other social network. The only reason I have a MySpace profile in addition is that there are so many of my friends that use it. I wish Google could buy Facebook. Facebook could be quickly tailored to be the unified system spoken in this article.

  14. <<...has a social network (orkut), but it's only popular in Brazil and India...>>

    It was ahead of its time and only open by invitation to begin with. I had heard about it but never new someone to invite me so I couldn't join.

    Now I just use Facebook since I was in college when it first came out.

    Socialstream looks great, one site to rule them all!

  15. I'm an Orkut member. It is similar to Facebook, but it always seemed slow and that put me off. I haven't logged into my Orkut account for at least a year

  16. Dear Mr and Mrs Google

    if you want to do it right, please remove this business of how many "friends" you have as being the main feature of the page. Not only is this often way overblown, it fosters a competitive nature on these networks, and its why most people I know leave them.

    Make it okay to just have a few friends on there and itll be a happy place


  17. This sounds really interesting. There are a number of new sites emerging to rival the existing social networks and I'm all for it.

    I actually came across this really cool site the other day which is combining the whole idea of social networking with chat based technology.

    At you create your own 'cybertwin', give it a personality and teach it to talk and behave like you. Other people can then chat to it 24hrs a day. You can even embed these twins into other sites like Myspace and your MSN account. It's something different anyway. Something to keep an eye out for perhaps?

  18. Interesting, the domain expired a/o 7/10/2007 and is pending renewal or deletion... someone asleep at the wheel?

  19. Well, Orkut doesnt have a bad interface but it does have alot of issues still, just to name one, a 'scrap' is a major thing to be indexed and there is no way to search a particular scrap at all.
    The flood-avoidance policy is totally DUMB

  20. @spinchange-Indian social networking scene is already shifting gears with mobile socialnets like sms scraps is not new any more)i guess orkut is getting inspired by this.

  21. Looks good. Something i would use but I'm 25. I don't see it taking over myspace or facebook. Just think about it when Trillian come out and you can have yahoo,msn,aim all in one people used it but it didn't take them over the other messengers. There will be a lot of people using this site but its not going to make that big of a difference where you are going to see myspace and facebook lose a lot of people. I can see facebook losing more user than myspace becasue this site is clean like facebook but I don't see it taking it over. Thats all i have to say. plus I don't see where you can get an invite for this site yet so the more time the waste the harder its going to be for people to use it. I can't even get my friend to switch from myspace or just make a facebook page its almost like pulling teeth.

  22. I've registered Orkut and I found this very useful for social networking. I found social networking as a tool which had been primarily designed for social interaction and sharing. You can gain lots of friends and build reputation over the net.

  23. Man its been a long time and it still don't have any beta sign up I have been looking forward to this site for such a long time and still waiting man what is taking so dang long