Google's experiments with social media have largely landed with a particularly embarrassing thud--Buzz was a security nightmare, Wave was incomprehensible, and Orkut is only popular in Brazil, for some reason. But Google is nothing if not determined, and today announced its biggest social push ever: Google+. It is definitely similar to Facebook at first glance, but there's a fundamentally different idea underlying Google+ that separates it from the pack.
Google got us good on Friday with their “Gmail Motion” April Fool’s joke, in which awkward businessmen perform calisthenics in front of a Kinect-esque motion sensor to reply to emails. While most of us just laughed, some hackers decided to make Gmail Motion a reality.
I'm in San Francisco for the next few days, bringing you regular reports from the Web 2.0 Summit on some of the most interesting ideas and innovations at the leading edge of the Internet.
One of this evening's most interesting presenters was Marissa Mayer from Google, who introduced a new application called Google Health, which will allow users to search for and create pages that aggregate all sorts of medical information, from symptoms and conditions to x-rays to personal medical records to Google Maps mashups that locate nearby doctors by specialty, and figure out whether they have appointments available and how other patients have rated them. The new app will also incorporate searches from Google Co-op, a feature that categorizes Web pages hand-selected by known experts in various health fields.
The idea of opening up your medical records and putting them online sounds scary, but Google plans to keep private information private with the same security that keeps snoopers out of your Gmail. Clearly there are advantages and disadvantages to online record archiving, but Ms. Mayer made a compelling argument by describing the loss, during Hurricane Katrina, of thousands of medical records in that could have been safeguarded if they were digitized and Web-accessible. She also mentioned the fact that x-ray data in North America, which is not centrally archived anywhere, currently numbers in the petabytes and could become a valuable research tool for physicians if properly tagged and organized. This, of course, is another part of the plan for Google Health.
The launch date for the beta site has not yet been made public, but as I'm one of those hypochondriacal people who constantly searches symptoms and treatments anyway, I'm particularly excited about the potential of this app. —Megan Miller