There's a lot of blah blah around at the moment about how Google may be about to, or are at least on the road to getting into the Social Networking space and challenging Facebook and MySpace. This is a recent post at Slate.com by Farhad Manjoo about the possibility, and it is typical of how people see things going.
What's happening in a nutshell is that Google are encouraging everybody, not only their account holders (who are legion anyway, of course), to fill out and save a Google Profile. This is mine.
I must declare my hand: I am a Google fan - they don't pay me, they don't need to. I know for a lot of people that is akin to saying you are a Microsoft fan. No street cred in that. But Google Books, Earth, Mail, Apps, Docs, Maps, Search &c. all do it for me. Particularly Google Books. No less an advance than the first printing press in my humble opinion. And for all that - free - I am happy to trade personal details and exposure to targeted ads. (What's people's problem with targeted ads? Surely they are much less irritating that random ones?)
So Google is filling their arsenals with ammunition. It would clearly be a very easy step to the creation of a social network.
Farhad Manjoo asks, "Why would Google want a social network? To get to know you better — and, thus, to serve you more profitable ads."
And how would having a social network help with ads - surely Google already targets ads in a sophisticated manner? Yes, they do. However, knowing what your friends are looking at or searching for as well as you makes them think they can be even cleverer and pipe you ads on the grounds that as they might appeal to one or more of your friends, so, hey, they might appeal to you too.
Sound familiar? Yes, it sounds very much like what Facebook get flak for at the moment. So Google, please be careful with this one! But such is the nature of Google's ad pipe - low-profile and way better targeted compared to Facebook - that most users might not notice much difference.
Surely almost as important for Google is the creation of a very useful social database which could simply be searched for friends for networking. And that network (I like to think it might be called GoogleSpot) is very nearly all there already. It just isn't wired-up at the moment.
But will Google actually do it?
If you want to do it yourselves (something businesses are already doing of course with their Google start pages), you can create a rather decent little network using your Google Accounts; the iGoogle start page and a selection of Google gadgets and other imported feeds. Get your special group to all do it and pipe in eachother's gadgets. Not practical at the moment for large networks for space reasons, but just about perfect for families or small groups who wish to stay private, I would have thought, provided some among the group are savvy enough to put it together. Of course one of the things you can pipe in is your Facebook feeds...
So will Google feel the urge?
Will Google do it for us? Will they set up a social network open to Google Profiles with just a little bit of rewiring and new templating of what's already there?
I for one would like to think they will - provided they are not tempted to make it too cute, trendy and silly in order to compete directly with Facebook and MySpace. I think there is space in the market for a sensible social network for grown-ups. But something tells me that Google's 'social network' will remain just as it is: the Profiles database.
I hope I am proved wrong.