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Google’s stepping up its social networking efforts with new features for Friend Connect today, and the features provide some clues as to how Google thinks social data can be used to make money.

Friend Connect provides a way for website owners to give their site social features without having to build an entire social network from scratch. This type of add-on social network tool has been increasingly popular in the last year and a half–Friend Connect competes with offerings such as Facebook Connect, which was announced around the same time, in the first half of 2008. Google says that about 9 billion web sites use Friend Connect, and that the service receives about half a billion unique page views each month.

The new Friend Connect features collect more data about a site’s visitors and provide several ways to use it. A polling gadget gathers information about visitors’ interests, which is then shared between sites.

Using this feature, a music site could find out which bands are their viewers’ favorites, and a fashion site could discover a user’s favorite clothing brands. A new direct messaging feature also allows Friend Connect users to contact others with similar interests. The music site could, for example, send newsletters targeted to users who’ve expressed an interest in certain 90s grunge bands. Or visitors might be served links to the most recent articles about these bands.

But perhaps most importantly for advertising dollars–and one must always remember that Google is an advertising company at heart–user profiles come with an integrated set of tools that a site owner can use to provide personalized information, ads, and services.

Most conveniently, Google has now integrated AdSense with FriendConnect, allowing site owners to fine-tune the ads displayed based on users’ interests, as well as site content.

Google’s vision of advertising has always been about presenting ad content at the moment people are actively seeking such information, and the company has always employed sophisticated analytics to do this.

FriendConnect’s new features look like a solid step toward monetizing social data. While social networking sites still struggle with this–users of those sites are usually looking to socialize, and not to buy things–FriendConnect’s advantage is that the social data can be used to catch users when they’re looking for useful information or even thinking about making a purchase.

The video below demonstrates the new features.

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Tagged: Web, Google, social networks, advertising, Facebook Connect

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