Google Amps Up Friend Connect Social Push

Google continues to fine-tune its social networking strategy, launching a new “social bar” for its Friend Connect service that makes it easier for Web site publishers to add Google-based social networking components.

The search leader’s Friend Connect project, which launched in May, offers drop-in widgets to help Web sites integrate social features into their sites without having to write any code. Features are similar to those on Facebook, MySpace and others — such as profiles, activity feeds, discussions and comment forms.

With the addition of the social bar to the mix, those features can all be added to a drop-down menu at the top or bottom of a publisher’s Web page.

“You need your users to sign in, to interact with your site, and to find those like-minded strangers… but pixels are precious, and you’re not sure how to make more space alongside the wonderful content that brought people to your site in the first place,” Christopher Wren, a software engineer for Google Friend Connect, wrote in a blog post. “The Friend Connect Team is here to help … The social bar concentrates many of the basic social functions into a small strip at the top or bottom of your Web page.”

The move is part of Google’s (NASDAQ: GOOG) broader OpenSocial initiative to give users more control over their profile and other information, and to make it easier to share between social networks that adhere to OpenSocial guidelines. Friend Connect also provides access to applications written for OpenSocial.

A number of social networks have been exploring initiatives to move their users away from the traditional “walled garden” approach of keeping members’ information limited or strictly tied to the site they join.

Facebook has something similar to Google’s Friends Connect with its Facebook Connect service. Sites using Facebook Connect can tap a consumer’s existing Facebook ID to validate them on a site outside Facebook.

While Facebook isn’t a supporter of OpenSocial, effort has the support of other major social networking players, including MySpace and Yahoo. MySpace has its own Data Availability program, which is supported by Yahoo (NASDAQ: YHOO), eBay (NASDAQ: EBAY), Twitter and Photobucket, among others.

While Google and Facebook — with their respective Connect platforms — are emerging as rivals to become the dominant standard for sharing user-generated content across social platforms, there are some areas where the two are working together. Google and Facebook, along with MySpace and others, have signed on to an industry-wide effort to encourage data portability, aptly named the Dataportability WorkGroup.

Friend Connect gadgets

The social bar is also the latest in a series of Friend Connect gadgets that can be added to a site by copying-and-pasting a snippet of code.

Site owners can position the social bar to as many or as few pages as they choose, and its discussion component can be applied to the whole site or an individual page.

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