Google has announced Friend Connect, a new service that will allow any web site to enable social networking features for their visitors. And the key piece of the strategy is that to do so only takes a few lines code, similar to the ease with which AdSense ads can be to any web page. By walking through a few steps in a web-based wizard, a site owner can get a snippet of code that can add functionality like "user registration, invitations, members gallery, message posting, and reviews, as well as third-party applications built by the OpenSocial developer community." More information on the project is available at http://www.google.com/friendconnect.
Leveraging emerging standards like OAuth, OpenID and OpenSocial, Friend Connect stitches together much of the social network plumbing found in most of today's social networks. And by virtue of building on OpenSocial, it effectively makes any site that uses Friend Connect into a simple OpenSocial container, allowing them to include almost any OpenSocial application into their site (note that sites can still use projects like Shindig and their own code to build more elaborate social features, Friend Connect just looks to lower the bar to entry). As Google's directory of engineering David Glazer describes:
"Google Friend Connect is about helping the 'long tail' of sites become more social," said David Glazer, a director of engineering at Google. "Many sites aren't explicitly social and don't necessarily want to be social networks, but they still benefit from letting their visitors interact with each other. That used to be hard. Fortunately, there's an emerging wave of social standards -- OpenID, OAuth, OpenSocial, and the data access APIs published by Facebook, Google, MySpace, and others. Google Friend Connect builds on these standards to let people easily connect with their friends, wherever they are on the web, making 'any app, any site, any friends' a reality."
More technical details will be available shortly, and in the meantime Google has release a few screenshots, one that shows an otherwise un-social page about Guacamole can gain social features and another showing the start page for their wizard-like setup process.