We Are Just Google's Social Test Subjects

In the past week we have seen some interesting developments from Google. Inquisitr calls the social gadgets on iGoogle a “stealth attack against Facebook”:

You see, very quietly Google has been working in the background on their social initiative and now as they start to roll out more and more of the smaller parts that will make up its larger social media initiative Facebook would be wise to sit up and pay attention. By themselves Google’s little Social Gadgets may not seem to be threatening but as people add more of them as they become available to their iGoogle pages the potential to make a severe impact on Facebook will become more apparent.

I am not sure how much of a threat iGoogle really is, as it would need significant traffic to really impact Facebook. However, there is no denying the point of the quote that social gadgets on your iGoogle page could easily increase the viral nature of content.

Obviously, the timing of the Social Gadgets release was coincidental to the Facebook purchase of FriendFeed, but it did cause multiple interesting blog posts. I was surprised when I read Brian Solis‘ post about Facebook and Twitter being on a collision course. As is usual for Brian, it is a very interesting post with a lot of good analysis. He also has a good summary quote towards the end as well:

The race is on so to speak. And like any race, it will be well documented and dissected. More specifically, its unpredictable results will be readily and willfully hypothesized and publicly deliberated. While it’s premature to predict the end result, the cooperation between Twitter and Facebook will continue to serve as a healthy competition for sparking innovation inside the network and across the social Web.

I focus on this quote because of what it is missing, not what it states. It forgets about the Google part in this drama. Now, I am not sure if the new iGoogle social gadgets will be the start of a major change in social site usage, but that is not the only place that Google is going all social. We also had the new updates to Google Reader which allow for better social discovery and some cool “Send To” links to share your Reader shares with other services. Again, by itself, the Google Reader changes are not going to cause a major social network shift. However, we are seeing small pieces in a bigger puzzle for Google.

Google is betting very heavily on the social web. The are using our daily habits as a major social testing experiment. On iGoogle, you have more mainstream users who want a personal homepage to start their day. On Google Reader, you have information addicts who continuously read and share information with the world. In both systems, social features are being added slowly. The Google Reader team is also monitoring sites like FriendFeed to ensure that people like what is happening, and possibly assist users when they run into problems.

The social web is not a two horse race between Facebook and Twitter. Never forget about the companies like Google. They are everywhere, and everyone uses their services in some way. When Google inches their way into a more social entity, people need to be wary that they can completely overtake a niche due to their size. They started this with search. They have done it with RSS readers. They have made huge gains with GMail, Google Apps and Docs. They are too big to ignore.

Twitter and Facebook need to be looking over their shoulder to ensure they stay ahead of Google. They need to keep focusing on becoming better services, and not on competing with each other. Otherwise, Google will become the dominant social service and Twitter and Facebook will be left wondering what they did wrong.