At first, Facebook was on board with the experiment. Google (GOOG) was testing a new tool that would let Web sites add a host of new social networking features. Using Google Friend Connect, for example, fans of indie pop musician Ingrid Michaelson could invite their friends, via their Facebook accounts, to join her Web site. Google's tool would let them import their Facebook contacts and then send out the invites to their friends' Facebook feeds. But just days after the trial began on May 12 2011, Facebook "suspended" access for Google Friend Connect, saying it violated privacy terms in its user agreement.
Though Facebook says it has "reached out to Google several times about this issue" to work out a solution, the abrupt about-face underscores some of the growing tensions—and blurring lines—between social networks and traditional Web portals, both of which are angling to capitalize on the presumed advertising riches that will come from social media.
Indeed, it's been nearly three years since News Corp. (NWS) acquired MySpace, and still no one's answered that $64 gazillion question about who's going to make the real money from the social networking phenomenon. Uncovering the answer will only get harder as sites across the Web add social features, making the definition of social networking ever fuzzier. "In two to three years, the entire Internet is going to be more social," says Brad Garlinghouse, senior vice-president for communications and communities at Yahoo! (YHOO).
MySpace and Facebook have, in fact, taken steps that would have you think they're cool with this widening of social media beyond their network walls. In the coming months, both may be aiding and abetting the likes of Google and Yahoo in allowing users to access their profiles, friend lists, and other data for purposes that would steer their ad-viewing eyeballs elsewhere on the Internet. The reasoning behind this apparent openness is simple: Just as AOL's and Prodigy's subscribers ultimately stormed beyond those gated online communities, social network users may not care to confine their socializing to one service. "I think the days of