Google might have failed in its attempts to build its own social network, but the Google Friend Connect system preview, announced on Monday, could go a long way toward providing web site owners with an easy way to add social features to their sites and get access to users on social networks like Facebook and MySpace.
The friend connect system, which is described nicely in the video you’ll find in this Google Blog post announcing Google Friend Connect, provides a way to add social applications, known as social gadgets in Google parlance. These gadgets could include a members gadget, a photo sharing gadget, a commenting gadget and so forth. Google provides some of the gadgets while third parties can also build and contribute gadgets.
After you add a gadget, you can customize the colors to match your site, then, and this is the neat part, you generate a code snippet, which you simply copy and paste into your site using your favorite editing tool. When you are finished, you have these gadgets, which not only provide a way for your site’s visitors to interact with you and other site visitors, they also provide links to other social network so you can invite friends from these other networks to join you on this new site. This creates a kind of social ecosystem where friends from various networks can get together on a site that has no actual connection to a social network.
What’s more visitors can use an existing sign-on from Google, Facebook and so forth so there is no need to create yet another user name and password. All in all, it looks to be a very impressive system.
It’s worth pointing out that IDC in a newsletter by Caroline Dangson, Google Friend Connect: Google’s Attempt to Position Itself in the Middle of the Social Graph, is not completely sold when she writes:
“One negative attribute of Google Friend Connect is that it will not (at least not initially) allow third party web sites to integrate users' social data with their own content. Therefore, no new compelling applications from the mash up of data will occur from this effort.”
While a fair criticism, I think we are early enough in the game to let this develop before calling Google on this one. The fact it was able to release something this easy to use and useful in about 6 months since announcing the Google Open Social API, is an impressive feat. As for the ability to generate mash-up type applications, I think this will come as it has with Google Maps.
The fact is that Google totally gets the internet and the idea of putting tools in the hands of users that enable them to do things that used to require an army of programmers and site designers. While it might be too early in the game to anoint Google a winner on this particular tool, I believe it has incredible potential to give site owners the power of social networking without a lot of programming skill, and that’s a very powerful tool indeed.