We just received a screenshot of an iGoogle page, that appears to show a couple interesting new elements of Google’s ever-evolving social blanket. The screenshot supposedly comes from the developer sandbox version of iGoogle (where it tests out new features), and shows options to socially integrate Google widgets. The one shown in the image below is the Google Finance widget, which apparently will be able to access your Google Contacts and place its activity in something called “Updates.”
It’s worth noting that Google just recently rolled out a version of Google Contacts that is wholly separate from Gmail. Why a Google Finance widget would need to access that data, I’m not sure. Perhaps it has some kind of easy-to-use “share this with” functionality. Or more specifically, as our tipster notes, that data may be be used to filter who you share something with in your social sphere. But the more interesting element is the posting to the Updates area. One would have to imagine that this will be a river of information similar to Facebook’s News Feed, that will pipe in new information from you when you update something.
Where such an Updates area resides will be extremely important. I’d guess it will be on your Google Profile, but there needs to be a centralized place for a full contact stream as well — or centralized places. Maybe Google will simply make another widget for all of your contacts’ updates to place on your iGoogle homepage or maybe even in Gmail. That seems like a smart play as it would be taking on Facebook by doing something slightly different than what Facebook is doing — allowing you to choose the area you wish to view the social stream. There would only be a walled garden insomuch as Google itself is a walled garden — a giant walled garden that encircles most of the web. Of course, Facebook is attempting to at least somewhat do this as well by opening its data stream outside of its walls.
I’ve made my distaste for some of Google’s social stumbles very clear. But, if this screenshot is legit, it shows a broader picture that is starting to make some sense. The real question now will be if Google will be able to keep all of this relatively complex tangle of social elements (and the underlying social relationships) simple enough for any user to grasp. Facebook had been really good at that, but it’s getting more complicated. Keep it simple, Google — and it just may pay off.
Update: The iGoogle Developer site has a FAQ which answers more questions about the impending social features.
Here’s the key section:
Who are friends in iGoogle?
For development purposes, you can add friends through the friends manager gadget included with the developer tools. You can only share activities with other friends who have access to the developer sandbox. This is not the final network that will be used in iGoogle. Users will have full control over who their friends are and will be able to easily modify their list of friends. Stay tuned for details.
What are profiles in iGoogle?
For development purposes, you can modify your profile data (displayname and thumbnail) using the profile gadget included with the developer tools. This is not the final profile or data that will be used in iGoogle. Stay tuned for details.
How often can a gadget post an activity to the Updates gadget?
A gadget can post up to 5 activities per user per day. For gadget development and testing purposes, these limits are not implemented in the sandbox. Posting activities requires explicit permission from the user granted during the installation of a social gadget.