Google Moves to Friend More Web Site Operators

Friend Connect is a move by Google to help traditionally impersonal Web sites make user experiences more stimulating.

Noting that social activity on the Web is controlled by a handful of social networks, Google Director of Engineering David Glazer said Google's new Friend Connect service aims to let users use any application on any site with their friends.

Unveiled as a preview on select Web sites May 12, Friend Connect represents an effort by Google, a company that is not associated with a particular social network, to socialize the Internet for users. Ideally, the service will let users add profile information, photographs and other personal nuggets to participating Web sites.

"Just because we as users are sick and tired of having to invite our friends to 50 different sites, doesn't mean that we don't want them there with us," Glazer said on a call with media and analysts May 12.

The plan comes after MySpace unveiled its Data Availability effort May 8 and Facebook May 9 introduced its Connect platform allowing users to shuttle their profile data and content to other Web sites. Both initiatives are intended to spare their nearly 200 million combined users the hassle of separately logging into every Web site.

Where MySpace's Data Availability and Facebook's Connect offerings let consumers move their profile data and content around the Web, Friend Connect puts the power in the hands of Web site operators, which, if Google's hopes are realized, will use the service to keep users on their sites longer.

This boost in stickiness could lead to greater ad revenues down the road, although Google has not announced plans to monetize its data portability move.

Turnkey social network

The key to Friend Connect is ease of use. Google has built a wizard-like page where a Webmaster can enter the name of his or her site, choose applications from a Google application gallery, and cut and paste pieces of code right into the site.

Google has built some basic apps using the OpenSocial API, although third-party programmers will eventually contribute to this effort, creating their own OpenSocial apps. Glazer said this could make the entire Web a container for social apps.

The service includes a sign-in component, which users will access via an OpenID account that gives users one set of credentials to access any OpenID-supported site, including Google, Yahoo and AOL; a friends list that securely connects friends through the OAuth standard, including Google Talk, Orkut and Facebook friends (and eventually Hi5 and Plaxo); and social widgets, which means any app created via OpenSocial, Google Friend Connect Product Manager Mussie Shore said on the call.

Friend Connect users will be able to opt in to having their activity reflected in the news feeds and activity streams of their social networks.

"It's going to be really fun to see what developers are going to come up with and what the owners and users of this long tail of Web sites are going to want now they can be social instead of just talk about being social," Shore said.

Greg Sterling of Sterling Market Intelligence told eWEEK May 12 that he envisions that Google will eventually build an application gallery similar to Google Gadgets, where Web site owners will be able to visit and pick out apps they think their users will enjoy. Any OpenSocial apps will be added to Friend Connect.

Glazer explained that while the full Friend Connect system is running, it will only be open to a select number of Web sites in the early stages. Webmasters may sign up here the evening of May 12 (not live yet) to be put on a wait list.

Google said it wants to start small, gather feedback from Web site owners, developers and users, and then grow from there. The timetable Google offered for seeing reasonable adoption for Friend Connect is in the next several months.