Google on Wednesday launched a new Google Friend Connect feature that allows Web site owners to add a collection of social widgets to their pages via an embedded navigation bar.
Facebook users immediately will recognize the mechanics: They see a similar Facebook-branded navigation bar appear atop a new page when they click on an external link posted by another Facebook user. It serves to keep Facebook users inside Facebook, at least mentally, while viewing content on external Web sites.
Google, which would be happy to supplant Facebook as the dominant social graph, characterizes its social bar as an effort to help Web site owners manage scarce screen real estate.
"While it's easy to add social features to your site with Google Friend Connect, you may have been wondering where to put all of the great gadgets," said Google software engineer Christopher Wren in a blog post. "You need your users to sign in, to interact with your site, and to find those like-minded strangers ... but pixels are precious, and you're not sure how to make more space alongside the wonderful content that brought people to your site in the first place."
The social bar brings with it access to the Google Friend Connect sign-in, site activity, a comment wall, and member listings.
It is undoubtedly efficient -- who wants to reproduce Google Friend Connect functionality with their own code? -- but it may be a Faustian bargain that ends up amplifying Google's online dominance. Though Google says that site owners can add the social bar to as many pages as they wish, the temptation will be to have useful features like comments available on every page, thereby putting Google's brand on every page.
Wren talks about "the wonderful content that brought people to your site in the first place." But as sites fill with third-party widgets showing YouTube videos, music and friend lists, Google AdSense ads, Google Search boxes, and the like, finding that wonderful content will become more and more of a challenge.
So is social networking a time waster or the next big thing in collaboration? InformationWeek has published an independent analysis of this topic. Download the report here (registration required).