Google’s Orkut Tweaks Point To Google Me

Google (s goog) has made some changes to the features at Orkut, the company’s lackluster social network, that could suggest the direction the search giant is going with its overall social efforts, which reportedly include a social network code-named Google Me and the integration of social gaming features. The Orkut tweaks involve the ability to send photos or updates — which the network calls “scraps” — to specific users or groups of users, instead of to your entire social graph. Whether that kind of feature will help Google or Orkut in its competition against Facebook remains to be seen, however, since the giant social network also allows users to target specific friends or groups.

Unless you’re from Brazil or India, chances are you’ve never used Orkut, the social network Google launched in 2004 after failing to acquire Friendster. Named after the Google engineer who created it, Orkut failed to gain much traction in North America, but developed a following in Brazil and then later India, although according to new comScore data, Facebook recently overtook the Google network in number of users in India. Although there’ve been design changes from time to time, the latest additions mark one of the few times the company has updated the service in any major way, and could be a sign indicating where it plans to go with its new social plans. According to the blog post about the changes, customization is the key:

You love your grandma and you’re friends with your boss, but that doesn’t mean you want them both seeing the conversation you’re having with your friends the day after a party. With orkut, you can now build separate groups of your friends reflecting how you interact with them in real life.

Earlier this year, Google researcher Paul Adams delivered a presentation on social networks (embedded below) that also highlighted what he said was the need for users to be able to project different personas or versions of themselves to friends and colleagues. The focus on being able to customize what updates or content is shown to different parts of your social network appears to be aimed at distinguishing Google’s social efforts from Facebook’s. However, Facebook has allowed users to customize who they send each update or piece of content to since last year, when the giant social network updated its publisher tools, and before that it had “friend lists” and other tools as well.

Orkut isn’t the only one focusing on customization of social networks — a YCombinator-funded startup called The Fridge is taking a similar approach to allowing users to create private groups for Facebook-style sharing.

Related content from GigaOM Pro (sub req’d): Google’s Social Scheme Hinges on Fears, Not Fortunes