When it comes to social networking, Google hasn't exactly taken the lead in innovation. Sure, it has Orkut, which is huge in Brazil. But in the U.S., and around the world, Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn and hi5 dominate. For the most part, Google's products and services are based on algorithms that help you find content easily. There is little explicit social interaction that produces content or determines the results Google presents across its services. But that may change down the road.
In this interview with Marissa Mayer, Google's VP of search products and user experience, Mayer talks about Google's new iGoogle features, plans to make iGoogle more social and why Gmail is a good base to become a social network.
Here are a few highlighted questions and Mayer's response.
What changes were made to iGoogle to allow for a more social experience?
"As iGoogle starts to look more at the social element, how can you connect with your friends? Can you play a game, not necessarily against the computer, but with a friend? Can you see comments that your friends are leaving on different blogs, or ultimately connect to their Picasa photo albums?" said Mayer. With all these relational links in mind, one step toward making iGoogle more social is to integrate one form of communication - chat, she said. Soon, chat will be embedded to the left-hand navigation bar, much like chat is embedded in Gmail. "We're starting the platform for some of this evolution," she said.
Is email the killer app for iGoogle? What’s the killer app for iGoogle?
"Things that are of the day... Quote of the day, word of the day all do well," she said. "The news-related gadgets are great. People don't want news as a homepage, but they like snippets of news." Mayer added that some random or more fun gadgets, like the eyes that track your mouse, are also popular.
Could iGoogle be a little more social like Facebook?
"It’s possible. [But] iGoogle is focused a lot more on content. What are you going to read today? What game are you going to play today? What quote are you going to learn about? What word are you going to learn? As we go social, it’s going to be more about the content you’re consuming. Less about the demographic attributes, what music do I like. More about, what are you reading today; what are you doing today. You can imagine being able to share across your friends, and see three of your friends all watched this video, four of your friends just all read this newspaper article... You can imagine using your social network to help you find more interesting content. It’s a little bit more implicit, which I think would be successful, rather than explicit.
To tap those social connections, would you partner existing social networks?
"We have some elements of social network. If
you look at Gmail, we know your contacts... Could we use this as a basis for a social network? That’d be a really good base for these social connections... If we now know your set of friends off of your Gmail contacts, that makes it easy to adding social elements to some of our successful applications, like iGoogle and Gmail."
Would you move into the area of voyeuristic feeds, like Twitter or FriendFeed? Would you have a follower feature?
"I think it’s possible. It's easy to allow someone to say, "Hey, I want to post this video" or "Hey, this is what I'm doing right now" when they Twitter. Those are explicit actions. There's value in that. And, usually when you're building a framework for updates, it’s an easy thing to add. Some of the more interesting elements come through some of the more implicit collaborative-filtering-based technologies. Based on activity you see in your friendship circle, or based on other users who seem to be like you, in terms of the gadgets they host on their page - what are they reading, what are they doing. In terms of serendipity, in terms of getting you the content you’re more interested in, that has as much promise as some of the explicit sharing.”
You have about 45,000 and growing developers on iGoogle. How many gadget developers have monetization?
"We’re seeing some companies who already have established business models, really using Google Gadgets almost like a form of an advertisement. It's a distribution mechanism. If you're the NYTimes or Netflix, you might not be a user's homepage. But now you have a place on their homepage. Your brand is in front of that user every day... [Additionally] we’re starting to see real business models in other gadgets. The most successful gadgets actually have tens of millions of pageviews a month."
Do the gadgets have any social elements like the apps on the iPhone and social networks?
"It certainly is conceivable as we introduce chat and we introduce open social and make iGoogle an open-social container, that means developers would have access to some of your friend information. And that ultimately could allow them to build social gadgets."
(Note: For more of Mayer's interviews and her guest host appearance on Vator Box, look at related stories.)