Google Quietly Tests Social Network

Google has quietly begun limited testing of several new social features created for its iGoogle personalized start page. The updates include chat, activity streaming and a new interface for the gadgets offered on the start page.

Google plans to expand the rollout of the updated start page next month.

The new expanded iGoogle inteface, called Canvas, holds the various iGoogle gadgets for users. Google had renamed its personalized start page iGoogle and added support for a variety of gadgets for users to tap to customize the pages in May 2007.

Developers can take advantage of the Canvas interface to display more information and make their gadgets more interactive, noted Ionut Alex Chitu, a blogger at Google Operating System, a blog site that follows Google activities.

"The new iGoogle places the tabs on the left-hand side of the page, and you can expand the tabs to see the list of gadgets and status information, like the number of unread Gmail messages," Chitu noted. "There's a new chat feature borrowed from Gmail that lets you chat with your contacts while visiting iGoogle. That means iGoogle gets a sense of presence because you'll know when your contacts are online. Since the chat feature will be enabled by default, it's obvious that Google will be able to add options for sharing items and discussing posts with the contacts that are online."

Now that the site has added the new features, Google has gone further down the path of transforming iGoogle into a social site, Chitu added. Once Google provides support for the open standard OpenSocial in iGoogle - later this summer, according to the company - the transformation to a social site "will be complete," the blogger noted.

OpenSocial is a set of APIs spawned by Google and partner MySpace Inc. to allow developers to write applications that can be easily run across different social networking sites with limited customization.

Mashable blogger Kristen Nicole noted that up until now, Gmail was the closest thing the Google suite has to a "functional portal" where users could manage all Google applications.

"But the upcoming iGoogle start page is really going to be a very social portal that makes sharing easy, by way of Google Reader items, chat, and activity streams that keep you connected across the board," she noted. "Creating a hub for OpenSocial apps that reach across a number of social networking platforms will also be an interesting aspect of the new iGoogle start page that most application creators will want to take advantage of for outreach and broadcasting purposes."

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