Google adds social capabilities to personalized home page

Users of the iGoogle home page can now share content and play games online

A collection of iGoogle themes

A collection of iGoogle themes

Google has added a social-networking component to its iGoogle personalized home page service that will allow users to do things like share YouTube videos, play Scrabble and maintain joint to-do lists.

By making iGoogle compatible with the Google-backed OpenSocial API for social applications, developers are now able to add social features to the gadgets built for the personalized home page, Google announced on Wednesday.

At launch, users will have access to 19 "social" gadget applications from Google and third-party developers

iGoogle itself is gaining two social-networking features: a new section where users can build a list of "friends" and another section where users will see "updates" from people on their list of contacts.

Until now, iGoogle has been intended as a Google home page where, in addition to the search engine box, users can access favorite applications like Gmail and content they're interested in, like news articles, syndicated feeds and weather information.

With this new social dimension, it seems iGoogle is extending its reach into the realm of social-networking sites like Facebook. However, Marissa Mayer, Google's vice president of search products and user experience, maintains that iGoogle remains a customizable home page.

"We still think of this as a personalized home page. Our goal is to have the Google home page be an integral part of our users' day," she said.

That is achieved for some by the standard Google home page featuring only the search box, while others prefer iGoogle. The motivation behind adding a social component to iGoogle was to make it better and more useful, she said.

"Now we're able to offer a much richer experience to those users on Google as they start their day," Mayer said.

The new social features are entirely optional, so users who aren't interested in them can ignore them and continue using iGoogle as they have until now.

Mayer views iGoogle as complementary to Google Profiles, a separate service where people can create a profile with basic personal information and links, as well as complementary to the company's Orkut social-networking site.

Without being more specific, Mayer said "tens of millions" of people have iGoogle home pages.

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Juan Carlos Perez

IDG News Service
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