Updated: Google on Monday outlined its Google Friend Connect, a service that promises to insert social features into any application and any site.
Sound familiar? It is. MySpace has its friend connect service and Facebook has its version.
Add it up and you have a good old fashioned ground war over this question: Is social networking a feature or a destination site? For Facebook, the answer so far is that latter--of course it would love you to carry it around to other sites. Simply put, everyone wants to be the suitcase that carries your social graph.
On a conference call, David Glazer, director of engineering at Google, acknowledged that the newfound open standards surrounding social networks is good for the Web and Google. "Social activity has been limited, bottled up by a handful of sites," said Glazer.
Websites that are not social networks may still want to be social -- and now they can be, easily. With Google Friend Connect, any website owner can add a snippet of code to his or her site and get social features up and running immediately without programming -- picking and choosing from built-in functionality like user registration, invitations, members gallery, message posting, and reviews, as well as third-party applications built by the OpenSocial developer community.
Visitors to any site using Google Friend Connect will be able to see, invite, and interact with new friends, or, using secure authorization APIs, with existing friends from social sites on the web, including Facebook, Google Talk, hi5, orkut, Plaxo, and more.
The tug of war is over control and the ground war is just beginning. Who controls these friend repositories? Even in an age of open data there will be aggregation winners. If Google's OpenSocial gang disperses these networks then Facebook has issues. If Facebook succeeds with its walled garden approach, it stays a winner. Google's plan: Adopt social standards and APIs from everywhere to let folks connect. The potential for Google: Be the friend aggregator.
Lump in ad revenue and it's highly likely that Google will get a few sites to go along with Google Friend Connect.
I asked Glazer if Friend Connect is a response to Facebook Connect and MySpace.com's Data Availability. "People will speculate a lot in that direction. We didn't create this code in the three days (since Facebook and MySpace made their announcements)."
Unlike Facebook and MySpace, Google lacks a dominant, centralized social-networking hub. Friend Connect works the edges of the Internet, applying an open and distributed approach, and bringing a social dimension to the 99-plus percent of sites that aren't socially enabled.
And let's not forget Yahoo. Last month, Yahoo launched its Open Strategy with plans to infuse social networking throughout its sites. The message: Social networking is a feature not a destination.
Time will tell who is right.