Integration – The Key to Google as a Social Network

    May 30, 2009
    Chris Crum

Google has or is working on pretty much all of the main ingredients for a really great social network. The problem (in my opinion) is that they are scattered and not integrated as well as they could be. Do you particiapte in any of Google’s social projects? Tell us which ones.


A while back when Gmail turned five years old, Google said that the coming five years would see more radical changes for Gmail than ever. Given the social nature of the web today, changes for the more social are the next logical step(s). Here are some rather social things (as I discussed here) that you can already do with Gmail.

    – send messages to friends

    – keep conversations with multiple friends together

    – embed videos/rich media in emails/chat messages

    – send messages to people beyond the Gmail wall

    – use search operators to bring up all photos /other media from any past messages

    – Account holders have profile pages with their picture

    – Creating a Google account essentially gives you an account to a much broader range of products in Google itself that allow for sharing things with friends (such as Docs, Reader, and Bookmarks)

Google Wave

Google Wave is a little confusing at first glance, but Jordan Golson at GigaOm sums it up well as a combination of email, instant messaging, and a real-time wiki. MarketingShift calls it the closest thing Google has to Facebook. Google calls it "a personal communication and collaboration tool" with the current incarnation being a "very early form."

This thing was made by the creators of Google Maps. It’s going to be interesting to see where it goes. It has received a lukewarm response thus far, but we’ll see what happens.

Google Friend Connect

Google Friend Conect is Google’s way of connecting users through other sites that aren’t owned by Google. It comes equipped with gadgets such as a Q&A gadget, and an event gadget that lets you coordinate events with friends, something you can do with Google Calendar also, by the way.

Web Elements – Conversation Element

Besides announcing Google Wave at the Google Developer Conference this Week, the company also announced Web Elements, which we discussed here. The Google Social Web Blog looks at one element in particular – the conversation element, which is powered by Google Friend Connect. It lets your visitors post comments restricted to just your site or participate in a global conversation based on topic of interest. That is interesting. Google explains:

A global conversation takes place on several web sites simultaneously and will have a "Global conversation" label underneath the title. When visitors post to a global conversation on a specific topic, such as mandolins (as shown in the image below), the post not only shows up on the site where they posted it, but it also on any site that chooses to embed a Conversation element on mandolins, now or in the future. So now your visitors can talk about mandolins with others interested in the same topic, no matter what site they’re on.

Google Conversation Element

Google Reader

Google Reader, which of course allows users to subscribe to blogs and content sites by way or RSS feeds, has gotten a lot more social this year. They added a commenting feature, and a "friends and trends" feature.

Googel Reader Commenting

Friends Trends

More recently, they have pointed out the ability to create and share custom feed bundles with friends. This is an intersting way to share content.

Google Reader Bundling


YouTube is often thought of as a video site, and it happens to also be the 2nd largest search engine. I think people often forget that it’s also a social network. Google continues to add social elements to this as well. For one, they’ve been testing realtime updates. They are also finally tying YouTube accounts to Google accounts. Makes sense doesn’t it?

Real Time Search

Google Co-founder Larry Page made it pretty clear that we’re going be seeing some more in the way of real-time search coming from Google. Well, that’s one of (not the only one, granted) the big appeals to Twitter. We don’t know what is going to come of this yet as far as Google’s concerned, but you can expect something.

Google Zeitgeist

Photo via Loic Le Meur

iGoogle and the Google Profile

I think these two elements are the real keys to integration of social activity through Google. If Google and users want to tie all of Google’s social elements together, I think it’s going to be through their iGoogle page and through their Google Profile. One appealing thing about both of these, is that neither one has to be limited to only Google’s social elements.

Google has a tremendous advantage with iGoogle, because it is designed to be the home page, and no doubt many people (myself included) use it as the home page in their browser (not just for Google).

iGoogle Chat feature

Everytime I open a browser window, i start from my iGoogle page. And why not? It’s got access to my email, chat, Twitter, Facebook, task list, and everything else I want, all on a customizable basis thanks to Google’s directory of gadgets that can be added to preference – and that directory keeps growing. Most of Google’s products have gadgets. If you want to bring together your social Google experience to one home base, this is the most likely place that is going to happen.

Then of course, you have the Google Profile, the page that really ties your Google experience together from the backend. This is what you log in to every time you use a Google service, regardless of which you actually log in from (there may be exceptions). You can add any links to this page that you want (and I suspect that there will be a lot more customization options available in the future). Recently

Google made some big moves with the profile. For one, you can now create a vanity URL with it, based on your Google account name. Second, they started adding profiles right into regular Google searches for names. Considering that Google is the largest search engine in the world by a very large margin, that’s going to give those profiles some pretty significant exposure.

Google Profiles in SERPs

Advertising and Revenue Models

Revenue models and social networks don’t always go hand in hand. Some of course have yet to really even launch a viable one, but that has not been a problem for Google. Google has one of the best revenue models on the web (though there has certainly been a lot of talk that there is more to be done with YouTube), but Google has no problem with putting AdWords ads anywhere it feels like. Consider their foray into "interest-based" advertising, and you have to wonder if they’d ever consider displaying ads on iGoogle…or the profile. iGoogle being the starting point for the user (in many cases), and the profile being outsiders’ gateway to finding friends.


Basically, my point to all of this (and has been for some time) is that Google is building a social network right under us. Many Google users will find themselves social network users without even realizing it, and Google will have to be included in the conversation of top social networks. And Google is a beast to compete with, I’m sure others will tell you. Google has not had great success with every product  it launches, but if the company can find the right way to integrate everything, it’s going to be quite a force (or even more so than it already is).
What are your thought on Google as a social network? We would love to hear them.