Google rarely overtly tips its hand on coming products, preferring to operate under the practice that it doesn't preannounce new software services, but if you read enough of its 30 or so product blog posts a week you can glean some stuff.
Take for example, this closing note in its Social Web blog post on how its new Google Profiles have been improved to be more user- and reader-friendly for people who search for users on the search engine:
While profiles work well for individuals, we'll continue to work on new ways for businesses to engage with their customers, so stay tuned for updates.I asked Google if Product Manager Greg Marra was referring to increased socialization of Google Apps, which has long been alluded to by Google Enterprise executives and product managers, or whether he was describing a plan to offer local businesses, such as those who are part of Google's Places program, their own Google Profiles (pictured at right).
A Google spokesperson told me: "More for businesses that want to set up profile pages. Stay tuned, we're working on more features for profiles over time."
Profile pages allow users to post biographical information, interests and other info to the Website, making it accessible to people to looking for people.
Profiles for businesses would be exciting because they would mark another step in the evolution of Google's local search strategy. It's also obviously a move against Facebook Pages and Twitter accounts.
Consider that Google Profiles are the search engine's attempt to tie users to some sort of social graph, where users are connected by Gmail, Google Talk, Google Reader, YouTube and other Web services.
Google tried to add some glue, that is, to productize Profiles with Google Buzz last year. While Buzz has tens of millions of users, it's not as if people spend the same amount of time on it as if they would on Facebook. As a social conversation service, Buzz works; as a social network, Buzz is limited.
But by opening Google Profiles to local businesses, the companies will by default constitute a sort of social hub for local businesses that can extend Google's bid to connect stores with consumers.
At the least, it will make these businesses easily searchable on Google.com, providing another outlet for local businesses, along with Google Places, Hotpot, Google Boost, Google Tags and the nascent Google Offers local deals service.
Google Profiles could be the nut that holds all of these local spokes together. At the least, it would give Google another weapon in the race versus Groupon, Facebook, Yahoo and Microsoft, among others.
Of course, if Google Profiles gains traction among local businesses, and consumers start to look to Google as another Yellow Pages, it may entice consumers to sign up for Google Profiles.
That would be the best case scenario for Google trying to organically build a social network: by luring as many as the 1 billion searchers it has as possible to create and actively use a profile.
Then maybe we'll finally have to dispense with the "Google doesn't get social" label.