More than a year ago Google and Facebook started a head-to-head race to build a social layer across the web with Google Friend Connect and Facebook Connect. The vision was, if you visited a web site, you’d get a custom experience based on your own interests and what your friends have been doing.
Today that’s becoming a bit more of a reality.
Google is releasing a series of widgets for its Friend Connect-enabled sites to give them personalized content, custom e-mail newsletters and ads. That’s a leg-up on rival Facebook, which has its own Connect service for finding other Facebook fans, commenting on posts and using log-in credentials so you don’t have to come up with a new ID and password. (Facebook has done an intensive integration with Huffington Post that shows content a person’s Facebook friends have recommended on commented on, but they haven’t scaled it out to wide range of other publications yet.)
Google also built features so that strangers with similar interests on the same Web site can find and interact with one another. Publishers can add the functionality with a snippet of code. When readers visit the site, a publisher can give them a custom survey to learn about their interests (this also helps Google offer more relevant content in its widgets). On top of that, visitors can share content out to their MySpace, Twitter or Facebook networks.
Right now, the data Google collects through the Friend Connect polls and customized content links doesn’t feed into its other recent social products like social search, although it certainly may in the future. Google has been pushing more social offerings as of late, launching an experimental search feature last month that shows results from friends.
“Our view of social isn’t that it’s a single thing — it’s a capability that’s symbolic of people engaging with one another,” said product manager Mussie Shore. “And in that process, there are several flows that can be helpful. It’s a quality of design rather than a specific thing to do in one destination.”