I have been describing Google as the hidden social network that is there when you need it and not when you don’t. These utilities pop up when you need them most; picture storage, email, chat, video chat, phone, etc…
By productizing these applications and launching them, Google would be doing a disservice to its customers and confusing the marketplace. Rather than launch a new “product” or put it into labs, they market test in current attention streams.
Examples include; introducing chat into Gmail, Integrating Picasa with Google Accounts, Integrating Google Analytics and Adsense, Adding a URL shortner to Feedburner…hopefully you get the idea.
This is a feature that is also a standalone launch. If you are uploading files to Google Docs and keeping them private, it is essentially an online locker for storage, which is in a round about way a Google online storage drive.
My point is that with the identity that is your Google Account you now have yet another feature added. The network effects of this move are clear in that you are less likely to go somewhere else to put your files if Google has permeated into the rest of your online existence. Looking at the large number of competitors that are out there in this space gives some vindication, pause, and apprehension in my mind. In some ways these services can be seen as more mainstream as many people did not know storing something “in the cloud” was even possible – and choice helps the consumer. In other ways, it becomes difficult to fight large identity incumbent.
By continuing to release features under current product offerings, Google can drive many users to a new service and do a live customer development process right in front of all of our eyes. They are doing this today with Google Wave.
The features you need most are appearing when you need them, not when you don’t. That is what makes today’s “social networks” the real “networks” of tomorrow.