July 05, 2011, 5:35 PM — Launching years after Facebook and Twitter, it's easy to look at Google as simply playing catch up in the social networking game with the release of its Google+ "field test." But look back in time and it's clear that Google has been playing in the social world for years, but never quite put all the pieces together in one place. Here's a chronological look at the long path Google has taken to form what could be the next big social network, if the company can pull off the mega-coup of convincing most of the half a billion Facebook users it has a better service.
2004 - Orkut: Google had a social network in place long before your Mom joined Facebook. Orkut was quietly launched more than 7 years ago to compete with Friendster, and it's stayed quiet in the United States and most of the world, but has become the dominant social network in a few countries, most notably Brazil. Hilariously, it's still in beta.
2006 - Gchat in Gmail: It seems like a pretty minor thing now, but integrating GChat into Gmail was one of the first steps Google took towards making one of its core products more social.
2007 - OpenSocial: Rather than re-invent the social wheel, Google first tried to co-opt existing social networks like MySpace, LinkedIn and Friendster via an open-source platform, but the initiative proved disappointing, initially working only with Orkut. It quickly faded away as Facebook's dominance grew.
2008 - FriendConnect: Google's next social strategy was a widget-based approach that allowed webmasters to add a "dash of social" to their sites. The number of sites using FriendConnect seems to be decreasing rapidly, with last count at over 138,000 worldwide.
2008 - Lively: Google's answer to Second Life, this social experiment lasted less than six months, closing its virtual, 3-D doors on December 31, 2008.