Friday, June 27, 2008

Google gets social with new iGoogle

Select users are now being treated to the next version of the company's portal, which integrates social networking characteristics into the site.

As things currently stand with iGoogle, users cannot do much more other than add widgets and customize the look of the page. This essentially makes Google's offering no more compelling than the dozens of other available portal sites out there -- and some may argue from the page's bland design any more appealing.

However, with the company throwing its support behind OpenSocial and the increasing popularity of social networking overall, this new version of Google's personalized portal may make it stand out.

Whereas tabs run across the top of the page in the current version, the newer version will feature the navigation on the left side of the page, borrowing more elements from Gmail's page structure and more refined design. Links to the user's tabs and gadgets are provided here. When the user clicks on the name, the gadget itself is maximized (if supported) to allow for easier viewing of content. Users will also be able to click on a button on the top right of the gadget from the iGoogle front page, to enlarge it that way as well.

Chat functionality a la Gmail now plays a role in the new site, and if users opt-in to share information with their other contacts, they'll be able to see what those contacts are doing across other Google services, in a format similar to the newsfeeds on MySpace and Facebook.

Among the shareable information will be Google Reader subscriptions, gadgets added to friend's iGoogle portals, Picasa photos, Talk status messages, and shared iGoogle themes, according to sources.

OpenSocial applications should also work, although Google said that functionality will not be available until later this summer. By then, more testers will likely be at work, as Google plans to slowly roll out the new iGoogle features throughout this month and July.

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