From the Google Zeitgeist conference Tuesday, the WSJ reports:
Mr. Schmidt said Google hoped to at least get access to Facebook users’ contact lists so that people can grow their social network on Google. He said, without elaborating, that Google’s products would incorporate more social-networking elements later this year.
"The best thing that would happen is for Facebook to open up its data," Mr. Schmidt said. "Failing that, there are other ways to get that information." He declined to be specific.
In other words, Google is now admitting that it wants access to Facebook’s social graph.
A Mess Of Multiple Social Graphs
Consider the implications of this admission. At present, Google has built multiple social graphs:
- Orkut Social Graph
- Google Friend Connect to connect friends on blogs/websites
- Gmail Contact List for email and chat
- Google Buzz and Google Reader social graph
- Google Latitude Social Graph
- Your Social Circle as tracked by Google
Now, despite having built all these social graphs over the years, Google wants access to your Facebook Friends, which is an implicit admission of its past social failures.
Microsoft’s Approach To Social: “The Glue”
In a recent blog post, Microsoft described their approach of partnering for social:
Facebook, MySpace, Orkut and QQ have become more general-purpose social networks for all of your acquaintances. LinkedIn, Xing, and Viadeo are great places for professional interactions, …there are great photo and video sharing sites like Flickr and YouTube, and hundreds of others that provide content and let customers post, comment, rate and re-share.
In light of this, we’re not trying to be yet another general-purpose social network, real-time public broadcast channel, or video sharing site. There are great services out there for these things already.
Microsoft’s approach seems to be working. With 330 million active users, Windows Live Messenger is the #4 worldwide app used by active Facebook users, just behind the most popular games like Farmville.
Windows Live is thus connected to 40+ different services, including virtually all of the popular social networks, audio/video/photo/music networks, and anything else you can imagine. They are also partnering with anyone using open standards like OAuth, Portable Contacts, Activity Streams, etc. – no longer a Google USP.
This stealth approach by Microsoft was also identified as Google’s approach by the Altimeter Group last year, but Google has not made much progress since then.
Where Does Google Me Go From Here?
From the latest reports, Google Me is about an additional “social layer” on top of:
- YouTube – I see this as a primary thrust area for Google (social recommendations)
- Search – possible enhancements to Social Search
- Google Maps – greater integration with Latitude, possibly FourSquare?
- Picasa /Flickr – social sharing enhancements
- A social gaming platform – from Zynga
The key question is, which social graph will Google use to add this “social layer”? With rivals Facebook and Microsoft partnering closely, Google has one ally left: Twitter. An integration of Google Profiles with Twitter can yield exciting possibilities.
Twitter’s relationship with Windows Live isn’t going too good. This might be Google’s opportunity in disguise. However, it’s going to be an uphill battle.
Update: After writing this post, All Things D reports a deepening of ties between Facebook and Microsoft Bing. This is a direct assault on Google’s bread-n-butter search business. All the more reason why Google needs to reciprocate by deepening its ties with Twitter.
Twitter is increasingly becoming a media company and a pervasive news platform, as Mathew Ingram writes at GigaOm. Why not a Twitter-integrated Google News? A personalized Google News based on users’ social graph on Twitter would be a great start.