Googles Native Social Network
Google Social Network Coming Together with Slide, Zynga
The search engine clearly feels, as Facebook and MySpace did before it, that people want to use social widgets and play games to enhance their social network experience.
Some believe that experience can be tied together by using Google's inherent social graph, which is rooted in Google Accounts and includes Gmail and Google Apps.
Google, which has not confirmed the so-called Google Me social network it is allegedly building, wants to put content in front of people that will keep them engaged and sharing information. It makes sense that the largest trafficker in online ads wants to create effective social advertising campaigns.
The problem with Google is that while it has several tools with hints of social, they are walled off from one another.
Google Buzz is a social conversation service leveraging the massive social graph culled from Gmail. Despite an ugly privacy snafu, Buzz culled tens of millions of users, underscoring the thirst for Google social services.
There are only about 200 million Gmail users who can access Buzz if they choose. That's great by most measures, but pales in comparison to Facebook's massive user base of over half a billion people sharing info.
Altimeter Group analyst Jeremiah Owyang believes Google's killer social network is its number of Google account users, which includes the millions of users of Google services such as Google Apps, Google Voice, Google Reader, iGoogle, Google Latitude and myriad other apps.
Google told eWEEK it counts "hundreds of millions" of Google account subscribers, but declined to be more specific. Google accounts are where the real user base lies, according to Owyang.
In buying Slide, Owyang believes Google will use apps such as Top Friends and Super Poke as a pathway to data about Facebook users for its own social network.
Such a social network would include Buzz, Google Docs and the rest of Google Apps, weaving a rich tapestry of Web services, with Google accounts as the main thread.
Googles Native Social Network
"When you look carefully, Google is a social network," Owyang told eWEEK, noting that Google has three main components that make up a social network.
These include profile information via Google accounts; the ability to let users connect with friends through Gmail; and the ability to do something interesting with those tools, which is what Buzz does atop Gmail and what Slide and Zynga, which could be the centerpiece for Google Games, could provide.
"All of those components have been separated in the past, and they now have the chance to pull these things together," Owyang said.
Forrester Research analyst Augie Ray believes the Slide acquisition is about buying talent and experience rather than the Slide apps.
Still, the limited information Google Engineering Director David Glazer provided in his blog post about the Slide buy left little doubt Google is taking social media more seriously than ever, Ray told eWEEK.
"They take pains to mention Google's commitment to making social information more useful and relevant to people, and CEO Eric Schmidt said at a conference this week that more information is created in two days than in the period between the dawn of civilization and 2003," Ray said.
"Google is hinting that their focus in social media will be to improve relevance and usability-two areas in which Google has excelled. I am not sure how Slide's resources fit into this view, but if Google can turn the social media 'fire hose' that so many complain about into something more helpful and manageable, many we'll forget Google's past social misfires such as Orkut, Wave and Dodgeball."
Whatever Google does, it can't come soon enough.
Facebook in July celebrated hitting the 500 million user mark, and its Like button is reportedly providing the connective tissue for some 300,000 Websites worldwide.
Facebook just started testing a recommendation button on Amazon.com, the mother of all e-commerce plays on the Web.
The clock is ticking for a Google social network.