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This article was published on April 15, 2009

Google is building a social network under our very noses.

Google is building a social network under our very noses.
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Former CEO of The Next Web. A fan of startups, entrepreneurship, getting things done faster, penning the occasional blog post, taking photos Former CEO of The Next Web. A fan of startups, entrepreneurship, getting things done faster, penning the occasional blog post, taking photos, designing, listening to good music and making lurrrve.

google-profiles1Google’s first attempts at a social network with Orkut have not proved fruitful, apart from in Brazil of course. Other more standard social networks such as Facebook, MySpace and Bebo have seen great success with large rounds of investment and major acquisitions.

Little did we know however that whilst we thought Google had made a conscious decision to take steps away from the “social networking” arena, they were building one right under our noses and have the capabilities to grow larger and more useful than any competitor.

Facebook: Social Network –>Apps.
Google: Apps–>Social Network

Facebook’s attempts at developing an OS on the back of its social network has shown impressive uptake amongst developers but left many users aggravated because of mostly useless application notifications. Google have built best of breed web applications and have gradually introduced social interactions within them; Gmail with Gtalk, Maps with Latitude, Google Reader with sharing and commenting features, iGoogle with tab sharing.All these sites and others are all neatly connected via a Google Bar (that need better customization options) stretched across the top of all your Google apps.

Additionally, with Google’s App Engine increasingly gaining popularity, we should continue to see impressive applications launch outweighing Facebook’s in usership and developer control. Google are creating a platform with apps far superior to the likes of those on Facebook with OpenSocial and App Engine as its backbone.

The Google Profile and Vanity URL’s.

The Google profile has, albeit slowly, seen small progressive developments in recent months.

Introduced just over a year ago,  Google introduced them as:

“…simply how you represent yourself on Google products — it lets you tell others a bit more about who you are and what you’re all about. You control what goes into your Google Profile, sharing as much (or as little) as you’d like.”


Google also recently introduced linking and integrating other services into your Google profile by suggesting other sites that you may use. There is still much more room for development here, possibly a social stream?

Google’s latest step (discovered by Google Operating System) sees them allow users to add a name to their Google Profiles, creating what has come to be known as Vanity URL’s. This dinky little step, in one smooth move reintroduces Google into the social networking arena. Yahoo and MSN have had profiles for years now, but the integration between their various services has been far from successful – clunky may even be the word. Also, try asking any Yahoo or MSN user how to get to their profile, Google’s URL’s are now straight forward, (create your own here).

What’s Missing?


Well, primarily, there is no easy way to “add a friend” and have them added to all the various sharing capabilities built into some of Google’s services. On visiting a user’s profiles, there is no “add to friends” button, although you are able to connect to people via Google Reader, Gtalk and the Google Friend Connect service – all these need to be streamlined.

Secondly, the friend stream. There’s a huge potential for improvement and expansion in the friend stream, leading the way right now is Friendfeed – ironically lead by two ex-Googlers. I still maintain, I would love to see Google acquire Friendfeed – but that’s for a different post altogether.

Thirdly, deeper integration and better design. We need to see more obvious and transparent integration of Google’s services within their more popular apps, as I mentioned above, Gmail, Reader, iGoogle and others have seen integration to a degree, this needs to be taken to another level. In regard to design, let me be clear: their ability to simplify issues and create incredibly usable applications that often shatter competitors is incredibly impressive. However, what we do miss with Google is what Facebook did initially have (and don’t any more), that immediate understanding of exactly how to be social using the tools provided.