Just over a year since launching, Google's first play into quasi onsite social networking Google Friend Connect remains in private beta, however some sites are now receiving invitations to sign up.
I know this because we are one of them.
If you'd like to "join" this site as a friend, the Google Friend Connect box is currently located below popular posts in the sidebar, and depending on the response we get, it may get moved up or down in the coming days.
Typical Google aesthetics are offered when you first sign in to Google Friend Connect. Users a prompted to accept a T&C statement, and I agreed but have no idea what it said.
Next stop is site details, which is easy enough. Name of site and URL. You are then prompted to download two files that must be uploaded your server for Google Friend Connect to work. I don't know why Google uses these files given some similar widget providers (MyBlogLog comes to mind) simply require an embed, but who am I to argue.
First stop is a Friend Connect widget that is similar to MyBlogLog, where users can "join" a site, although from what I can gather, this doesn't include any special privleges apart from what the competition offers. There is some suggestion of "friend tracking" but I'll have to play with that later. Users can also "invite" other users to join your site.
What did surprise me was some of the other features offered by Friend Connect under the heading "social gadgets." Top of the list is a nice enough looking Comments Wall, not something we'd necessarily use, but handy. There's also a "rate/review" widget that offers a combination of Outbrain and Disqus functionality. I'm not sure how difficult it is to implement on a WordPress install per post without having done it, but here's the foundations of a service from Google that may see it start to reach into ratings and commenting 2.0 territory.
One feature Google should be commended on is strong customization options. No, you can't make the widgets super pretty, but similar to Adsense with more options, you can customize the widgets to fit your site nicely.
There isn't really a conclusion yet. Google Friend Connect doesn't look half bad at first look, and the set up was nice and easy. There's only one way to find out whether this is a useful tool for blog owners: you need to sign up in the sidebar so we can report back at a later date :-)
Update: first thing I've noticed: each member image leads to a list of links back to that persons sites, which is good, but you have to have added your sites to your Google Profile, so I'd recommend doing so.