Google steps into data portability dance

Friend Connect lets Web publishers add social networking features to their sites

Google Inc. today released a preview version of Friend Connect, a service designed to let Web publishers add social networking features to their sites.

Friend Connect, which will be available on the Web some time today, lets publishers add social networking applications by inserting "a snippet of code" onto their sites, Google said.

"We're seeing social capabilities get baked into the infrastructure of the Web. [They're] increasingly not tied to any one site, to any one source of friends or any one type of application. We see the Web moving toward an end state where people can use any apps on any Web sites with any of their friends," said David Glazer, director of engineering at Google, during a press conference to discuss Friend Connect.

Thus, sites will be able to add features like user registration, friends invitation and message posting, as well as allow visitors to interact with friends in social networking sites such as Facebook, Google's Orkut, Plaxo and Hi5, according to Google.

"Google Friend Connect is like giving webmasters a salt shaker full of 'social' that they can sprinkle on their sites to add social capabilities," Glazer said.

Google's move is yet another in a recent string of data portability efforts to tear down the walls in social networking sites and let users export the data and content they have stored in those sites. MySpace and Facebook took steps in that direction with announcements last week.

As the popularity of social networks keeps rising, and people set up multiple profiles on such sites, they are demanding the ability to carry their data, content and connections from one site to another, so they don't have to reenter all their information.

At the same time, Web publishers are eager to latch on to the craze by adding social networking features to their sites, now that a critical mass of Internet users have embraced the interaction and sharing that social applications provide.

Friend Connect makes use of open standards for authentication and authorization like OpenID and OAuth, and de facto makes any Web site a potential "container" of social applications built with Google's OpenSocial APIs, Glazer said.

"The entire Web has become a container for OpenSocial apps," he said.

Web publishers tonight will be able to sign up to a waiting list to get access to the Friend Connect service, but Google expects to make the service available to anyone within a matter of months, officials said.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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