Google to Connect Friends Across the Web

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By Peter Whoriskey
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 13, 2008

To socialize these days, hundreds of millions of people every month visit networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook.

But what if the Web itself operated as a social network?

Google announced yesterday another step in what its engineers see as that inevitable evolution. A new, free service from the Mountain View, Calif., tech giant will allow any Web site to become a social site.

Any Web page, whether it is devoted to curling or pizza or a folk singer, could allow visitors to meet and connect with "friends" who visit that site. Like any such major network today, a Web page using the service could present users with the names and pictures of friends and potential friends. Those people could then post messages to one another.

The announcement from Google comes at a time of ferment and speculation over how people will meet and fraternize on the Web.

While large social networks such as Facebook and MySpace have grown rapidly and are judged to be worth billions of dollars, they have also drawn criticism for being "walled gardens" -- places that allow members to connect easily, but only while the members are at that site.

The new Google service, known as Friend Connect, raises the possibility that the kind of kibitzing that has been largely contained on a handful of mega-sites could spread across the Web.

"We're in the middle of a huge change," David Glazer, an engineering director working on Google's social initiative, said in an interview. "Wherever people go on the Web, they want to have their friends with them, and this makes it possible."

Some analysts described the service as a way for Google to gain a better foothold in an area of Web services that it has been slow to exploit.

"The fact that so many people were using Facebook made Google nervous," said Danny Sullivan, editor in chief of, an industry site. "They watched this site have explosive growth, and they don't have a competitive product. It's not that Google is thinking, 'Gosh, all these people need help.' They're thinking, 'We're behind on social networks.' "

Friend Connect is aimed at the millions of Web sites that could benefit from having members interact but can't enable such connections because of a lack of technical expertise or hardware.

With Friend Connect, the owner of a Web site would add a snippet of code to its page. Google's servers would handle the rest.

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© 2008 The Washington Post Company

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