rolled out 18 social gadgets for its iGoogle start page. These social gadgets turn iGoogle into a far more interactive and social experience, as users can now play casual games with other iGoogle users and share videos and to-do lists right from the iGoogle homepage. As Google's Marissa Mayer and Rose Yao, iGoogle's product manager, told us yesterday, while the first incarnation of iGoogle was about connecting people with information, the service will now also focus on connecting people to each other.Google just
These new social gadgets already launched in Australia earlier this month, so this announcement doesn't come as too much of a surprise, though the U.S. launch also brings a number of new U.S.-centric gadgets to iGoogle from organizations like NPR, the Huffington Post, and the New York Times.
All iGoogle users in the U.S. will get access to these gadgets over the course of this week and Google plans to expand the reach of these social gadgets beyond the U.S. and Australia in the near future.
iGoogle as Google's Social Hub?
On the surface, this doesn't seem like a major announcement. However, while Google is slowly building out its repertoire of services that leverage the OpenSocial platform, the company never really tied all of these services together. With this announcement, though, it looks like iGoogle could become the central hub for social activities on Google's ecosystem. After all, iGoogle already knows who your friends are because it can tap into your Google Contacts, where you can manage your friends by adding them to the "Friends" group.
Keeping Up With Your Friends
iGoogle currently offers two interesting ways to keep up with your friends' activity: a timeline and an 'updates' feed. The timeline even allows users to post Facebook-like status updates. The good thing about the update stream is that users can see their friends' activity on iGoogle, even if they don't have a specific gadget installed themselves.
The current crop of gadgets is interesting in its own right. The ToDo gadget, for example, allows you to share a list of chores with your family members. Electronic Arts developed a nice version of Scrabble for iGoogle and the NPR gadget allows you to share news stories with your friends.
Another outstanding gadget is the YouTube gadget, which allows you to easily share interesting video clips with your friends. The problem here, though, is that the gadget doesn't directly tie in to your activity on YouTube itself. When you share something on the actual YouTube website, it doesn't automatically appear in your iGoogle gadget. This seems like a missed opportunity and exemplifies the problems Google still faces as it tries to centralize its users' social activities across the large variety of services it offers.
The fact that there is no social Google Reader gadget for iGoogle so far also feels like a missed opportunity. While the Google Reader team has been adding more social features to its product, a stronger integration with iGoogle would really take this to the next level. We can only hope that an enterprising gadget developer will soon create this link between iGoogle and Google Reader.
Lots of Potential
Overall, we get the feeling that these social gadgets have a lot of potential, but it will take some work from third-party developers to really make the most out of this opportunity. The 18 social gadgets Google released today definitely make iGoogle a more attractive start page and it will be interesting to see what gadgets developers will come up with. Google itself, however, still has to work on creating a more integrated experience.