Google just announced a number of major updates to Google Friend Connect (GFC), the company's set of tools that can bring social networking tools and widgets to any site. Today, Google is extending this functionality with a new 'Interests' section that helps a site's visitors to get to know each other, a newsletter tool and gadgets that display personalized content recommendations. Google now also allows site owners to connect this data they gather from their users with their AdSense accounts to display more highly targeted ads.

As Mussie Shore, Google's product manager for the Friend Connect project, told us yesterday, Google wants to make it easier for site owners to engage their community. Friend Connect, which launched in December 2008, is currently in use on over 9 million sites. 2 new users join a GFC-enabled site every second. According to Shore, small communities with between 1,000 and 5,000 members represent the sweet spot for Friend Connect.

Finding Other Members

The central idea behind these updates is that Google wants to make it easier for users on a site to connect and get to know each other. The new "Interests" section on Friend Connect is the hub for most of these new features. This is a poll with very specific questions that will appear when they join the site.

In Google's example, a site owner who runs a site about guitars could ask members what kind of guitar they play, what their favorite amplifier is, or if they consider themselves experts or beginners. All the data that users enter here becomes a part of their public profiles on GFC-enabled sites. This allows users to find other members with similar interests and a new private messaging feature allows them to get in touch with each other. This also gives site owners a better overview of what the interests of their visitors are.

Newsletters and Recommendations

This new poll is the central new feature as other new tools like the newsletters and personalized recommendations are linked to the answers. Site owners, for example, can now send opt-in newsletters to a very specific group of their members - advanced Fender Stratocaster-playing Beatles fans, for example.

The answers in this poll also influence the kind of content recommendations that a user sees in the new Friend Connect content recommendation gadget. Even users who aren't members of the site will profit from this as the gadget will display recommendations based on the aggregate data Google has collected from all of the site's members.

In addition to all of these new tools, site owners can also use the new GFC export tools and APIs to link all of this data to third-party tools.

Link to AdSense

Site owners can now choose to link some of the ads on their sites directly to answers that users have made public in the 'Interests' section. Site owners can link existing ads on their sites to these or create new ones right from the AdSense section of their Friend Connect accounts. This allows Google to display more personally relevant ads that match the interests of a site's users.