Google The Stealth Social Network?

Google’s plan to socialize its various applications continues. Google Operating System has spotted code in Gmail that may lead to a Facebook-style news feed of status updates from your Gmail contacts. More about this and Google’s continued “stealth social network” moves below.

Back in September, Google launched a friends update feature on Orkut. Activity Streams & Other Social Nuggets From Leaked Google Video covers this plus how Google is working to create “activity streams” for all of its products as a way to make them more social and akin to Facebook.

In October, Google got behind OpenSocial, a way for various social platforms to share social data and let developers produce applications for that data. However, so far OpenSocial doesn’t seem to have done much to socialize Google products. Instead, Google seems to be continuing along the lines of making (often mistaken) assumptions that people in your Gmail contacts are also those you’d want to share stuff with.

A nice article in November from the New York Times looked more at the role that Gmail might play as an “Inbox 2.0″ to socialize Google. But in December, we saw the first serious application of this.

Google Reader Gets Social With Friends Shared Items covers how in December Gmail contacts were assumed to be “friends” that you’d want to share feed items with. Keeping It Private On Google Reader covers how many disagreed with that. To date, it still remains the case that people that Google considers your “friends” (even if they aren’t) in Gmail will automatically get notified if you share an item.

In today’s Google Operating System post, Ionut lists a few other places where things are shared, ranging from Picasa activity to items saved via Google Shared Stuff. However, I don’t see that my Gmail contacts somehow automatically notify me if they save to shared stuff. Yes, you can share — but it’s one way, as far as I can tell, and also only broadcast to people who you choose to invite. In contrast, the Google Reader change was more proactively going out and telling people about what you’re doing. As for Picasa, you see activity of things you’ve subscribed to — similar to how YouTube subscriptions work. That’s different then automatically getting told about things that your contacts are doing.

Still, it seems likely more proactive activity stream-style socialization is coming. If Google’s smart, they’ll put a hold on this stuff until they come up with a clear and unified way for it to be rolled out and controlled by users. Instead, so far, we’ve gotten this piecemeal rollout of Orkut feeds, Google Reader sharing, and new profile pages.

I used to call Google the stealth portal because of how it rolled out portal features without being obvious about it. It would be a mistake if it becomes the stealth Facebook or stealth social network. The last thing you want in the social space, where privacy is such a big concern, is a feeling that you’re sneaking up on people.

By the way, don’t forget that Google Maps continues to be a major area where Google is playing in the social space. Some recent posts about that:

Also see discussion about today’s news on Techmeme.

Related Topics: Channel: Strategy | Google: Gmail | Google: OpenSocial


About The Author: is a Founding Editor of Search Engine Land. He’s a widely cited authority on search engines and search marketing issues who has covered the space since 1996. Danny also serves as Chief Content Officer for Third Door Media, which publishes Search Engine Land and produces the SMX: Search Marketing Expo conference series. He has a personal blog called Daggle (and keeps his disclosures page there). He can be found on Facebook, Google + and microblogs on Twitter as @dannysullivan.

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