At 216 slides, 'The Real Life Social Network' by Paul Adams takes a fair bit of time to wade through, but it does offer some interesting insights into the various ways in which identity, context and connections play out (and differ) in the real and virtual worlds. More importantly, with rumours flying thick and fast about Google Me, this could be a pointer as to how the product could work. Of course, with the assumption that Google Me is indeed a reality.
The slides go into exhaustive detail explaining how a single basket definition of your identity, context and connections don't work well at all in the real world. There are more than a few obligatory potshots taken at Facebook in the process. But that aside, I like the basic premise that is being put across and if they can actually build this in a manner similar to how Gmail was built at its time of launch, it will be the mother of all battles on the online audience front.
At stake is a minimum of 500 million users (and potentially a billion soon, if Zuck's projections come true) who are giving away (sometimes unwillingly and unknowingly) information regarding themselves at a scale unheard of so far. Contexts that are made by users themselves are more accurate and cheaper to compute than ones generated by machines. Google could really do with all of that data and make their advertising platform even better.
The trouble for Google is that 'social' is not where its mojo is at. While the company does have a better quality of audience (primarily driven by intent than connections), 500 million is an audience you can't afford to ignore. And on the internet, owning the audience is what is all about. If they can actually do the anti-Facebook, where contexts are isolated and sharing is off by default, it may just give enough people the incentive needed to switch.
Google has little to lose on this front. They are not even a bit player compared to Facebook at the moment. But this can really hurt Facebook if it is done right. A lot of people, including me, are still on Facebook because there is really no other alternative.
P.S: I really wish people would stop using 'social graph' anywhere and everywhere. I am not even sure if half of the people who use it know what it means.