Google's iGoogle is pretty much my home page for the Web. I check Gmail, Facebook, weather, movie times and blog updates and use other gadgets from there every day.
Accordingly, I was interested to see Google yesterday, Aug. 6, launch 12 social gadgets that let users share information, play games and collaborate with friends. This is the next step in Google's progressive move to socialize its Web services using the OpenSocial APIs it launched nearly two years ago.
Facebook has been allowing its users to connect via applications since it launched its developer platform more than two years ago. Programmers have built thousands of apps on Facebook since then, allowing users to throw virtual sheep and host zombie wars.
Third-party programmers have been announcing OpenSocial-based Friend Connect apps here and there, but Google has been woefully behind in leveraging the APIs itself. These social gadgets show the company is ready to open things up a bit more in this vein.
There is also a new ToDo task management gadget. Here is an iGoogle page from Google bearing the aforementioned gadgets:
When you click on these gadgets, Google asks your permission to let the gadget do two things: "Know who I am and see my Friends group" and "Post my activities to Updates." See the check boxes in the Times gadget installation page here:
What this means is when you click these boxes Google will share your gadgets with users in new Friends and Updates feeds, as well as existing friends groups in Google Contacts. You'll basically be able to play games with friends and engage in other social collaborations without going and adding the gadgets to your iGoogle page.
iGoogle Software Engineer Jeff Regan explained in a blog:
"Your friends are able to see what you share or do in social gadgets through the gadgets themselves, or through a new feed of information called Updates, a way to see what your friends are doing on iGoogle without adding all the gadgets that they have. Updates can include everything from favorite YouTube videos, to recently shared photo albums, to movie plans for the upcoming weekend..."
I was concerned at first because Google said the social gadgets were rolling out "to all Australian users," but I soon learned this wouldn't stop me from accessing them. I was able to easily add them to my iGoogle page, albeit an Australian version of my iGoogle page at this domain:
Note the option to share my to-do list with friends at the bottom of the gadget.
However, when I checked for the gadget on my U.S.-based iGoogle page here it failed to render. Note the error message:
Clearly, the social gadgets are not ready for U.S. iGoogle users, but that shouldn't stop you from trying them out via the Aussie domain.
As for the gadget itself, the ToDo gadget is useful. While Gmail already has a to-do list feature that does much of the same, the fact that I can share this iGoogle gadget with other users, such as family, friends or even colleagues, is appealing.
A Google spokesperson told me Google plans to roll out the social iGoogle gadgets in the United States and elsewhere soon. The social sharing aspects of these new gadgets will not affect existing gadgets you have installed on iGoogle, meaning your Gmail or Facebook gadgets won't be shared (we hope!)
In case you don't think Google has Facebook in mind with these shared iGoogle gadgets, check out this pitch from Google's Regan to programmers who must fuel the iGoogle frenzy with new, innovative apps:
"We're also encouraging all gadget developers to take advantage of iGoogle's growing audience of tens of millions of users and start building a social gadget for iGoogle If you're an interested developer, you can read more about it on our developer site."
Google has no hope of catching Facebook in the social apps wars, but Google knows that users of its Web search engine, Gmail and iGoogle home page Web services constitute a large audience worldwide.
If Google can get some of these searchers, Gmail users and other Google Apps users to stick around longer by helping them connect with each other through the social iGoogle gadgets, it broadens the window of opportunity to show these folks ads.
For Google, ads are what it's all about.