Google gets serious about social networking

The search giant's CEO said Google will be adding "a social layer" this year.

After purchasing handfuls of social networking-centric companies -- including socialDeck for online games and Jambool for virtual currency -- Google CEO Eric Schmidt said the company's social networking project will debut later this year.

Speaking Tuesday at the Google Zeitgeist conference in Scottsdale, Arizona, Schmidt said Google will be adding "a social layer" into its suite of search, video and mapping products. These comments are inline with reports that Google is developing a Facebook alternative called Google Me. Despite the fact that Google Me is in direct competition with Facebook, Schmidt has plans to cull Facebook data.

"The best thing that would happen is for Facebook to open up its data. Failing that, there are other ways to get that information," Schmidt said. He declined to elaborate. Sounds sneaky!

Google has also been working with Twitter by developing new tools to integrate Google services with the just-overhauled micro-blogging giant.

Up until now, Google Me sounded like it would be a standalone site, like Facebook. But Schmidt's comments about layering make it sound as though Google Me might be a cross-platform integration. "We're trying to take Google's core products and add a social component," Schmidt said. "If you think about it, it's obvious. With your permission, knowing more about who your friends are, we can provide more tailored recommendations. Search quality can get better."

I'm especially fond of the with your permission caveat -- it sounds like Google has learned that opt-in services are less likely to raise privacy concerns, like Google Buzz did.

The "layered" approach could work well for Google. Avoiding the pressure of building, marketing and maintaining a brand new site -- and instead melding social features into existing products -- would be less of a jolt to users, and wouldn't force some to choose between Facebook, Google Me, or any of the other social sites out there.

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Brennon Slattery

PC World (US online)
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