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Google's New Social Network Will Be Social, But Not Much of a Network

One of the most anticipated purported tech announcements is the upcoming -- but no one knows precisely when -- news that Google will launch a new social network called Google Me. But if remarks made about it by CEO Eric Schmidt are an indication, don't expect Google Me to be a direct answer to Facebook, or a specific social network at all.

If anything it sounds a bit like Apple's new Ping social network, which is incorporated into iTunes; Schmidt said at a Google conference late last week that the company's plan is to add social elements into products it already has -- and that seems to be the social blueprint for any Internet company that isn't also already a powerful social brand. The strategy is to take existing user bases -- in Apple's case with Ping, it was the installed base of 160 million iTunes users -- and turn that into the foundation of something social.

If that seems to be the strategy du jour among sites that aren't Facebook, there are hurdles. Apple, smartly, gave Ping a music focus, thus giving it a reason for being that other social networks aren't as adept at providing. But for Google, this could potentially be harder -- unless it partners with existing nets where the social glue is already solidified. When it launched Google Buzz, as a Gmail spinoff product last year, it did what seemed the obvious thing: to set Buzz up so that Gmail users automatically followed one another with no work required by the user. It was the next logical step since the product already allows users to see which other people they encounter in Gmail are logged in. But logical though it may have been, it backfired. Within four days -- after much consumer complaint -- Google backed off that strategy.

That demonstrated both that people want themselves -- not technology -- to take the reins when it comes to building out their own social networks; and that people probably didn't feel the need for there to be a Google Buzz anyway. If you've noticed, in the seven months since the launch, Google Buzz hasn't exactly set the world on fire. Some speculation has it that YouTube would be a likely place to roll out social features, and that's not a bad idea. It already has many social aspects but could probably benefit from more of them.

Another route: to do a log-in link with Facebook. What is that? Specifically, I'm referring to Google striking a deal similar to what Facebook currently has with Yahoo. Via a product called Yahoo Pulse, users can link their Facebook and Yahoo accounts together, sharing status updates and other content across both. It seems like a reasonable workaround for Yahoo since it would be difficult to gin up its own social net. The more I read, the more I wonder if that's what Google would like to do. At the same event, per The New York Times, Google senior vp/product management Jonathan Rosenberg took a swipe at Facebook, noting that Facebook users can import their Google contacts, but not the other way around. Schmidt added:

The best thing that would happen is Facebook would open up its network and we'd use that information to improve our ads and our search. Failing that, there are other ways in which we can get that information, which is what we're working on.
Whatever Google ends up doing, one thing is for sure. It's abandoned the idea of building a Facebook-style social network, as well it should.

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