New Google Widgets Socialize the Web

Google Friend Connect aims to help site operators create bridges between users and their friends.

Following key data portability announcements from MySpace and Facebook, Google May 12 introduced a service that helps Web site owners add social features for their visitors without having to do any programming.

Google Friend Connect lets site operators add a snippet of code to their Web sites to add user registration, invitations, member galleries, message posting and reviews, features that are increasingly becoming the norm rather than the exception online.

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The news comes as industry experts claim that socialization tools will drive more traffic to Web sites, keeping visitors to consumer sites engaged and sticking to the site longer than they would normally. Increased user stickiness boosts the probability that those users will click on ads, adding more pennies to the piggy bank for Google, Yahoo, Microsoft or whoever a site's chosen ad partner is.

Sites leveraging Friend Connect will let users see who is online and invite them. Moreover-and here is Google's data portability entr??«e-site owners will be able to use secure APIs to create a bridge between their sites and other social networks, including Facebook, Google Talk, hi5, orkut and Plaxo.

Google provided an example of how this works in statement. Independent musician Ingrid Michaelson has added music features from iLike with Google Friend Connect to run the iLike OpenSocial application on her official Web site.

Michaelson fans who visit her site will be able to see comments by friends from their social networks, add music to their profiles, or even see who is attending concerts, ostensibly making her Web site a mini walled garden for creating communities of Michaelson fans.

Google said Friend Connect has been developed to lower two barriers to the spread of social features across the Web.

"Many Web site owners want to add features that enable their visitors to do things with their friends, but the technology and resource hurdles have been too high," the company said. "Second, people are tiring of needing to create new logins and profiles and recreate their friends lists wherever they go on the Web. Google Friend Connect offers a solution to both these issues."

Google and other vendors believe Industry experts won't argue with the barriers Google noted, which is why MySpace May 8 and Facebook May 9 announced their own data portability initiatives.

With Data Availability, MySpace said it would let users begin moving files, photos and other information stored on MySpace to participating sites Yahoo, eBay, Photobucket and Twitter in the coming weeks.

Facebook Connect will allow users to sync their Facebook profile securely with any partner Web site, though there are no partners yet.

The initiative from MySpace and Facebook are different in that they are geared to empowering consumers by opening up their walled gardens. Google's Friend Connect widgets put the powers in the hands of the site operators. Either way, users could be well served by these initiatives, provided the three enabling companies don't get in each others'-and ultimately the consumers'-way.

Google did not specify in the release whether it is supporting OpenID or OAUTH authentication standards, but Search Engine Land's Greg Sterling reported that Friend Connect leverages OpenID.

Google Friend Connect will be available May 12 in a preview release on a handful of white-listed Web sites after Google's Campfire One event at its Mountain View, Calif., campus.