Yesterday a select group of fifteen or so industry luminaries attended a highly confidential meeting at Google’s headquarters in Mountain View to discuss the company’s upcoming plans to address the “Facebook issue.”
The meeting was so secret that all attendees had to sign confidentiality and non-disclosure agreements strictly forbidding them from discussing what was shown to them at the meeting. Notwithstanding that NDA, I’ve now spoken with three of the attendees off record to get an understanding of what Google is planning. Google’s goal – to fight Facebook by being even more open than the Facebook Platform. If Facebook is 98% open, Google wants to be 100%.
The short version: Google will announce a new set of APIs on November 5 that will allow developers to leverage Google’s social graph data. They’ll start with Orkut and iGoogle (Google’s personalized home page), and expand from there to include Gmail, Google Talk and other Google services over time.
On November 5 we’ll likely see third party iGoogle gadgets that leverage Orkut’s social graph information – the most basic implementation of what Google is planning. From there we may see a lot more – such as the ability to pull Orkut data outside of Google and into third party applications via the APIs. And Google is also considering allowing third parties to join the party at the other end of the platform – meaning other social networks (think Bebo, Friendster, Twitter, Digg and thousands of others) to give access to their user data to developers through those same APIs.
And that is a potentially killer strategy. Facebook has a platform to allow third parties to build applications on Facebook itself. But what Google may be planning is significantly more open – allowing third parties to both push and pull data, into and out of Google and non-Google applications.
In the long run, Google seems to be planning to add a social layer on top of the entire suite of Google services, with Orkut as their initial main source of social graph information and, as I said above, possibly adding third party networks to the back end as well. Social networks would have little choice but to participate to get additional distribution and attention.
Google has a number of heavy hitters engaged in the project. Amar Gandhi, who apparently wasn’t at the meeting and whose title is the rather unassuming “Product Manager, Orkut,” was previously at Microsoft where he unsuccessfully tried to integrate social networking features into Vista. Brad Fitzpatrick, the chief architect of Six Apart until he joined Google in August, is leading the charge to make the Google project as open as possible. Patrick Chanezon, Google Evangelist, is herding the cats.
Lots of people noticed Fitzpatrick’s social graph post (linked in paragraph above), connected the dots to his new job at Google, and speculated that Google’s has been working on something really, really big in this area. This is now confirmed and, unless Google changes the launch date, we’ll be seeing the beginning of it on November 5.