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June 28, 2008

Google Talk as a Social Network

I know it seems hard to believe, but your Google Talk contacts will become... your Google Friends. Everything started last year with an innocent addition to Google Reader: automatically broadcasting your shared items to your friends. If you use Google Reader, you probably noticed that you're subscribed to the shared items from your Google Talk contacts. Many complained that their Google Talk contact list includes many people that are not necessarily friends. "I have business contacts, school contacts, family contacts, etc., and not only do I not really have any interest in seeing all of their feed information, I don't want them seeing mine either," explained a Google Reader user.

But how does someone become your friend in Google Talk? You can send or accept an invitation, but there's another option enabled by default: "Gmail automatically determines which contacts you'll be able to talk to without having to invite each other," based on how frequently you mail each other. And since Gmail contacts include all the people you've ever replied to, you'll end up with a new Google Talk friend after replying 2-3 times to someone's messages.

Here's a screenshot from the recently launched Google Friend Connect, a service that brings social features to ordinary web sites. As you can see, Google Talk is listed next to Facebook, orkut and hi5.

The invisible social network needed a way to expose information about its users, so you can now create a Google Profile. There's even a shortcut for accessing your profile:

But without a place where you can share interesting stuff with your friends, Google Talk would be just a virtual social network. iGoogle, the site where you can aggregate all the things you find important, will become Google's main social site when the new version of iGoogle will be released. Among other features, the new iGoogle will add a Google Talk widget, support for OpenSocial applications and a gadget that shows updates from your friends. iGoogle's gadgets and presumably some Google services will be able to push updates to an activity stream that will be shared with your friends, which happen to be the Google Talk contacts. That means your GTalk contacts will be informed when you share a post in Google Reader, when you upload photos in Picasa Web Albums or post a review in Google Maps.

This is actually the Maka-Maka project revealed last year in a confidential Google video that has been accidentally published. "The new central place for social activities will create feeds for all or your events (activity streams) and share them with your contacts," I mentioned in that post.

That means Google Reader's sharing feature was just a rehearsal for a much bigger release that will make the hidden Google Talk social network more visible.


  1. A contacts management needs to be produced by Google. Using the Gmail contacts manager, each service could be divided into a group. Then, using "All Contacts" as a starter, you could add your friends to each service as per
    your request. So friends you want to add to Google Talk would receive a request to chat with you and Google Reader users would receive an email saying that you are sharing your Shared Items with them. It would be nice to see

    Also, why can't Google allow us to manage our profiles from the My Account page? It would simplify where our information is needed.


  2. You know, I didn't ask for this and I really don't want it. I hope there will be a way to disable Google "friends."

  3. How does the last picture show the user's gmail messages, chats with google talk friends, and a customized iGoogle page without being logged in?

  4. Is it just me, or does the Reader friends thing not work if you're using Google Apps for your Domain?

    My wife, using normal Gmail, sees her frieds in Reader. Me, using GAFYD, no friends. (And I have friends, honest!)

    Same problem with Google Talk for Blackberry. Friends show up when I'm in mail, but on the Blackberry, contact list is always blank. Can only talk to people if they initiate, or if I've keep an old conversation from them open.

  5. Great... All we need are more social networks.

    Joey -

  6. What do I do if I use google reader with my google account but I have a google apps account where I keep my contacts and use for google talk?

    I want to be able to share things with these people. Can I set it up so my profile is linked right to my google apps user name?`

  7. This needs to be explicitly opt-in. Anything else sucks.

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