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Google gives social networking another go

Though almost everything Google touches seems to turn to gold, there is one project that never quite became ubiquitous (at least here in the U.S.). Orkut may have found a following in Brazil and Asia, but I don’t know anyone who uses the service. As Erick Schonfeld reports in TechCrunch, that may be about to change.

Known internally as Maka-Maka, the project will provide a means for all of Google’s existing applications to work together within a social-networking landscape. Google is also building a series of APIs that will allow developers to integrate their own applications into the Google universe.

Schonfeld describes the Google initiative as an attempt to “‘out-open’ Facebook” and predicts that the APIs will roll out for Orkut and iGoogle before percolating down through the Google universe.

All eyes will be on Google, but don’t expect anything too earth-shattering straight out of the gate. Many of these apps will be copycats of what is already available on Facebook (just as the very first apps on Facebook were ported over from other parts of the Web). This first go-round, Google will just be trying to match Facebook’s ante. Remember, even on Facebook, the best apps didn’t emerge on Day One. And now Facebook has a six-month lead.

Given that Orkut seems to have already lost the battle for social network supremacy, I have doubts that a barrage of borrowed Facebook apps will inspire anyone to switch. But if other Google properties begin to incorporate social-networking elements, then it seems like Google may succeed, if only through its near-complete Web saturation.

As I see it, the biggest shortcoming of social-networking sites is their inability to play well with others. Between MySpace, Facebook, LinkedIn, Tribe, Pownce, and the numerous also-rans, it seems as if maintaining an active presence at all of these sites could erode into becoming a full-time job. If Google can somehow create a means for all of these services to work together, and seamlessly interact with the Google family, then perhaps this is the killer app that people don’t even realize they’ve been waiting for.

On the other hand, if Google delivers a platform that simply mimics Facebook, while opening up the API just a little bit further, I have doubts that it’ll go anywhere. The business of social networking has been a bit of an enigma for many of the larger companies. Whereas Friendster, MySpace, and Facebook were practically born in dorm rooms and garages, their success has dwarfed anything that Yahoo or Google have been able to accomplish. Perhaps that’s all about to change, but amongst each segment of the population, there is usually only room for one social-networking portal, and Google will have a rough road ahead of it trying to convince kids, teens, and adults alike that this spot should belong to Google.

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