Google's Internet-Wide Social Network Takes Shape

The scope of what Google are creating slowly dawns on me.

While looking into Google's new +1 recommendation button and seeing that they were planning on including it in web pages, I decided to revisit Buzz and my Google Profile to take another look. Lo' and behold there it is, a meta-data driven social network that uses the entire internet as it's platform.

Most people will have sussed this out already (I've just had lunch, remember), but what's important here is everyone's wider understanding of how the internet works and how this isn't just an orphan product that isn't important yet.

Your Account, Your Profile and Your Settings

Google splits an user's information into separate products:

Google Account

This is where Google stores information it uses to ensure you are who you say you are when you visit any Google site. This includes your username, password and access rights to their services. It also contains the link to your Profile.

Google Profile

Your Profile is where you tell Google things about you that helps it's products provide a better service. These include your name, your avatar, where you live, and most importantly, what other websites you use.

Google Settings

Other Google products, such as GMail or YouTube, don't store information about you, that's already in your Profile. They don't store information on your username and password, that's in your Account. What they do store is information on how you want that particular product to work - your Settings. Each Google product has its own specific and unique Settings. There's no point duplicating information, right?

Google Account manages your access to all Google products (this is called a Single Sign-On mechanism), making it easier and quicker for you to switch between various Google products as you do different tasks.

Your Profile and the wider internet

As well as some information about you, your Profile also stores links to your other profile pages on other websites. For example, Google suggests you can add your Facebook public profile page, your Twitter page, your Flickr photostream and any other page that is specifically about you.

This seems like a simple list for others to use in finding out more about you, but there's more going on here. The links in Google Profile use something called a microformat to tell the internet that this page is about you.

If you looked at the specific links, you would see, in the HTML, something like this:


What that little snippet does is tell your Profile that the page is about the same person as the Profile. But the page at the other end of the link could be doing the same back to your Google Profile; again, using the rel="me" link.

This creates a bi-directional link that let's Google do something even more interesting (am I stretching that?).

A Buzzing

Google Buzz is Google's microblogging product where updates are shared with and can be followed by Friends or Contacts from GMail or can be completely public. It allows you to post items to it directly, through e-mail, or by having them fed automatically from other websites.

By confirming that a link about you is bi-directional, Google knows that it really is about you, so it is safe to add any updates from that page to Buzz. It will suggest what sites are already confirmed from the list in your Profile (remember how unimportant that seemed?) and will allow you to add them to Buzz. Before long there's a near-live activity stream of content from all over your social internet appearing in your Buzz feed and being shared to your social circle.

The Big Picture

So let's compare all these components to other social networks, and see what we have.

  • Social networks need a Profile where you maintain your own information - check
  • Social networks need an Activity Stream where your updates and those of your connections appear, just like Buzz - check
  • Social networks have Friends and Connections to create social circles - check
  • Social Networks have Recommendations, where you can influence your Friends with your ratings of websites or services, using something like +1 - check

What makes Google's social network different is that it is not limited to a single website, where all your friends already have to be members, it interacts with the entire internet and allows you to carry on with your usual social online activity, knowing all the while that it's being collated and fed to a single stream that you control.

Google don't always get everything right, but they do understand technology. And when they create a true social network, they create it big! And that's why you should care.