Is Google gunning for Facebook with 'Google Me'?

Tech personality Kevin Rose tweets about upcoming alleged Google service called 'Google Me' that will compete with Facebook

Rumors have it that Google is building its own social networking site named "Google Me" that may be the company's attempt to unseat Facebook. Is it possible for the world's most popular search engine to wage war against the world's most popular social networking site? If speculations are true, there's a chance.

The rumor started with a tweet from Digg co-founder Kevin Rose. Citing a "very credible source" and carefully branding it a "huge rumor," Rose gossiped that Google plans on launching Google Me "very soon." That's it for details, but tech pundits turned Rose's 101 characters into elaborate plans.

What Google Me Could Be

So what would Google Me be? A popular guess is that it will be an expansion of Google Profiles, which is a representation of how you appear on Google. Right now Google Profiles do not contain a lot of personal information, nor do they broadcast much. But they could.

Think for a moment about how many Google features you use. Now think about how much Google knows about you based on those apps. Aggregating all of that information into one Web site and transforming it into a social experience would be a breezy process for Google and you. You wouldn't have to lift a finger; Google does all the work. (To see what Google services you're using, check out the Google Dashboard.)

SF Weekly pointed out that Rick Klau, the developer who built Google Buzz -- Google's previous attempt at social networking -- was recently tapped to overhaul Google Profiles. If that's not a sign, I don't know what is.

Social Networking After Google Buzz

Due to massive privacy concerns (and lack of interest), Google Buzz failed. Buzz was released as an opt-out feature, meaning one day millions of people woke up to their e-mail contact lists splashed all over the Web. Google panicked and apologized for the error in judgment. It takes a lot of nerve for Google to attempt another social networking site.

ReadWriteWeb also reported that "90 percent of the content published into Buzz is automated: 63 percent is piped in from Twitter and 27 percent is from automated RSS feeds." That's not social networking; that's social regurgitation.

Assuming Google learned its lesson from Buzz, Google Me should be an entirely opt-in Web site with crystal-clear privacy controls and brand new features that aren't just trickle-down from other Web sites. But rock-solid privacy controls are key: as much as we love Facebook, we don't need another months-long Facebook privacy fiasco, and Google -- no stranger to privacy violations itself -- should know that.

Other Possible Features

Infosyncworld sees the future of Google Me on mobile phones, specifically those running Google's Android OS. Location-based tracking is popular (and dangerous for one's privacy), so what better way to ride a fad than turning Google Me into the ultimate "I know where you are and what you're doing" kind of service? Google already has Latitude; meshing that with Me just makes sense.

Google Me could also be more than just a friend-stalking time-waster -- it has the potential to become a immense productivity suite. Integrating Google Wave into Google Me could popularize document collaboration amongst friends and co-workers, and wouldn't require invitations but rather it could seamlessly combine the two services. As a standalone service, Google Wave is somewhat confusing, and many of its features were duplicated in Buzz. Pay attention, Google: incorporation is the key to success.

Assuming these rumors are true, what would you like Google Me to be? Are you already concerned about your privacy? Is it possible that Google could be the David to Facebook's Goliath?

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Brennon Slattery

PC World (US online)
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