Google Shakes Up Social Networking

Google (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) is chasing the social-networking opportunity, very much in the spirit of its corporate tenets. News Corp's (NYSE: NWS  ) MySpace and privately held Facebook should be shaking in their boots, even as they play a part in Google's expansion plans.

Never settle for the best
"Focus on the user and all else will follow," and "democracy on the Web works" are two of the basic tenets in Google's philosophy. So rather than designing a social network, and then adding some useful content (think Facebook or MySpace), Google is approaching networking from the other side. Start with great content, and then make it simple to add some social flavor.

Friend Connect (FC) is a very simple, very focused service. It gives site owners an easy way to handle user management and sign-ins, helps us invite more users, and provides a few tools for sharing content, running online discussions, and so on. It's all very basic stuff these days. The OpenSocial community is expected to expand on the launch capabilities with a steady stream of new applications.

It's best to do one thing really, really well
The genius of this service lies in its simplicity. Friend Connect takes the programming out of social networking, so anyone who owns a website or a blog can make it an interactive, collaborative experience. Choose a few options, point and click a bit, and copy the resulting code into your page -- and you have a sign-in system. That's about as hard as it gets.

It's easy for users, too: they can sign in with an account from Google, AOL Instant Messenger, Yahoo! (Nasdaq: YHOO  ) , or any of the OpenID project members. Once they're in, they can share friend lists and user information from Facebook, Google's own orkut and Google Talk, LinkedIn, and more.

Fast is better than slow
Once they've logged in, users can interact with the applications installed on your site. Just as anyone can sign up for a Google AdWords/AdSense account and get started in the advertising world, anyone could get a foot in the social networking door with Friend Connect. This undermines established networks like MySpace and orkut, turning them into mere address books for this new kid on the block.

There's always more information out there
By launching Friend Connect, Google is uncovering a potential new revenue stream. If it gains traction with smaller sites, I'd imagine that they would use Friend Connect as a tool to drive more traffic to their content, complemented by Google ads and the odd YouTube video.

If Google's successful monetization of the paid search-market is any indication, creating a sticky application like Friend Connect will prove to be an equally smart move.

Connect with further Foolishness:

Fool contributor Anders Bylund is a Google shareholder and a heavy user of nearly every goshdarn service mentioned, but holds no other position in any of the companies discussed here. You can check out Anders' holdings if you like, and Foolish disclosure can make money without doing evil.


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