Have Google just shown their hand in the big social network gamble? And has it been there all along?
Okay, so I may sound like an insane conspiracy theorist, but with the update of Google Profiles - the quiet backwater for the geeks and profileistas - Google seem to have shown us what a social network really looks like.
Our true social networks have never been Facebook, MySpace, Twitter or any other "walled garden" or web application. The network we really interact with on an honest social level, rather than a pseudo, abstracted one, has been there all along - the Internet.
Our social interactions have always taken place around objects or subjects not Likes or Follows. Whenever we talk to friends we always talk about something. In current social networks we bring those subjects along and use them as seeds for our conversations and comments. But, the originating artefacts are still out there on the web and these social conversations rarely make it back to that original source.
What if we could converse around these subjects where they live and our conversations were maintained alongside them for our wider circle of friends to see and interact with?
I favourite a movie on YouTube. This favourite is logged in my profile and is fed through to the social aggregators, such as Facebook and Google Buzz. Any conversations in Facebook stay in Facebook, but what if the conversations went back to the comments beneath the movie? What if my friends on YouTube and Vimeo - my Movie circle of friends - could follow this conversation?
My network of friends isn't just on Youtube or Facebook or Google Profile - they're my friends from every single profile I have on every site I've signed up to - my Social Internet.
Technologies such as PubSubHubbub and Salmon already attempt to consolidate and centralise these activities around subjects by synchronising or feeding the conversations back to the source, or upstream.
Google Profile's update owes a lot to the design work already done by Facebook, but the detail of where this profile sits speaks volumes.
Google couldn't possibly hope to compete with Facebook and steal away their users. But why do they need to? Why not go to the source, the subjects themselves? These are the seeds for all the conversations anyway. They exist all over the internet and most, well-built ones will use microformats like "rel=me" to connect user's profiles to their wider social identity. Google Profiles picks up on this and creates a hub, around which it consolidates aggregates these conversations.
Google has always seemed to build projects in a jigsaw pattern. We only get to see the individual pieces, never the box cover. Every so often we catch a glimpse of that big picture and we get to see the scope of the thinking and engineering that is undertaken behind the scenes. By updating a product that doesn't usually get a lot of attention, such as Profiles, are we catching a glimpse of the jigsaw box cover?
Has Google created the largest social network, using rel=mes and profiles to create a massive web of connectivity and identity using the very fabric of the internet and the activity we undertake every day in our interactions with the world?
or am I just nuts?