Google Slides into Social Apps

Google has made a number of attempts to break into the online social networking and social media arena. Its latest move was the acquisition of Slide, a social media application developer. Should Twitter and Facebook be concerned?

Before we answer that question, let’s take a look at what Slide brings to the table. The company develops social media applications that let users create virtual communities and  exchange gifts, tokens, images and other virtual items. Facebook has even used Slide to enhance its members’ abilities to interact with each other. So is Google trying to get some of Facebook’s money?

That doesn’t seem to be Google’s goal, though it would be understandable for a smaller company. It’s been reported that Facebook and Twitter together account for more than a fifth of all of the time spent on the Internet. That’s far more time than is spent playing online video games!

Google dreams bigger, however. Google engineering director David Glazer noted that “as the Slide team joins Google, we’ll be investing even more to make Google services socially aware and expand these capabilities for our users across the Web.” There are a number of commentators, in fact, that think Google will use Slide’s technology to create a new service for users. Anton Gonsalves, writing for InformationWeek, thinks that “Google may be interested in some type of social network centered on games.

That’s an interesting possibility, but I think it misses the real reason Google acquired Slide – and one of the ways that Google works its magic. The first paragraph of the Google blog post announcing the acquisition describes Slide as “a social technology company with an extensive history of building new ways for people to connect with others across numerous platforms online.” In my opinion, it’s those last 13 words that are most important.

Google is not going to build a new social network as such. There won’t be a new Facebook-like network powered by Google. What you may see, however, is a kind of enabling connection. Imagine being logged on to your account on Google, and being able to not only access all of your Google-related accounts from one page (Gmail, Google Docs, Google Analytics, etc.), but many of your other accounts as well – including social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

But wait, the possibilities get better. Say you belong to several social networks. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to interact with your friends on any of those networks without having to switch between websites? Trillian already offers something like that for IM programs. Given Slide’s background, the interaction may involve playing online games together at first, but it’s not likely to be limited to that.

In my opinion, it’s the cross-platform aspect that is the key here. That will no doubt show up in Google’s online applications; Slide technology may go into making them operate better together. But it’s unlikely that it will end there. Who knows? Microsoft tried to promote a “Passport” that let users take advantage of a single profile across multiple sites that agreed to accept it. Perhaps Google may even use Slide technology to let users create a single overarching “profile” that can be tweaked for use on multiple social networking sites. Time will tell.

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