Google is reportedly hard at work on a new social network, apparently called Google Me.
So it’s perhaps an odd time to see Google start making real use of Facebook, rolling out a rare product that connects to the network to tap into its users’ social graph.
But that’s exactly what Google is doing with YouTube Leanback, announced last night.
Leanback is somewhat neat in and of itself: it’s essentially Pandora for YouTube, turning YouTube into a passive viewing experience rather than a series of searches and clicks.
Visitors to www.youtube.com/leanback are immediately presented with a full-screen, HD video, and when each video ends, another begins. The stream is populated based on your activity within YouTube (likes, subscriptions, etc.) and, if you connect to Facebook, what your friends are sharing.
The idea is to make YouTube more like TV, which starts playing video as soon as you turn it on and doesn’t stop till you turn it off.
Tapping into Facebook to make a product smarter or help users find their friends is something other companies do all the time, which is the main reason for Google to be jealous of the social network — it’s letting Facebook put its stamp everywhere on the Internet. But Google itself very rarely does this. Buzz pulls in updates from Facebook, but that’s about it.
It’s also noteworthy that Google made this connection to Facebook a prominent feature of its announcement, even including a tutorial on linking the accounts in its demo video.
Knowing who people’s friends are is incredibly useful in a very wide range of applications. If Google is finally getting religion on this point, that’s great news for the quality of its products.
But if Google is about to launch a Facebook-killer, this is an odd time for it to start advertising how well Facebook already does this.
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