UPDATE: Google's launch of the codenamed "Maka-Maka" project will take place Thursday, details at TechCrunch.] With Silicon Valley sprouting more Hawaiian-esque words for social media products than a Trader Vic's menu it's only appropriate that Google should be betting large on a social media with a new project code-named Maka-Maka. As detailed by TechCrunch Maka-Maka is an effort to bring social media capabilities and other Google content applications to any Web platform and application rather than trying to create just another standalone portal. To some degree this may seem like sloppy seconds after having lost a bidding war for Facebook to Microsoft, especially as Google's own Orkut social media portal has barely dented U.S. markets. But there may be some strengths to Google's methods if they can get them rolled out in a timely fashion.
The general Maka-Maka concept is to use social media as the principle platform from which one accesses other Google applications and which in turn can be embedded on other media platforms, in essence turning any Google application or other application into a social media-enabled application, complete with Google's own library of widgets already enabled through the iGoogle personalized interface. Add in Google's contextual ad capabilities and there's the potential for a new type of universal distribted platform for consuming content that puts social contexts at its focal point. Instead of locking people into a particular portal Google provides a trusted login, core functionality and the ability to embed a common framework for conversational content anywhere.
Then again, it could turn out to be what it seems to be at first glance: an after-the-fact attempt to pull together on a patchwork basis a very disparate group of Google applications that were never constructed with social media in mind. Facebook has its own ideas for a social media operating system as well, mind you, but at least it would start with a viable community built around bona-fide relationships at the center of its capabilities rather than having to wish that network into being.
But there's one key aspect to Google's gambit that may help it to propel its plans for Maka-Maka forward more quickly than may be envisioned at first: mobile markets. With a strong mobile platform about to be launched and powerful content and applications built off of Google Maps that are naturals for social networking there's every reason to think that Maka-Maka may be first and foremost the gateway into mobile social media that can bridge together voice conversations, messaging, email ecommerce and user-generated content far more rapidly than any other mobile provider. With Facebook under Microsoft's wing there's going to be an already established mobile platform on which Facebook's network of users could be deployed rapidly, so this is going to be a race with many dimensions - many of which could just as easily favor Microsoft's increasingly savvy online strategy.
Much of this will become more clear over the next few weeks as Google reveals more about both its mobile capabilities as well as its social media plans, but expect the initial announcements about Maka-Maka to be underwhelming until Google's mobile plans become more explicit. Once those kick in Maka-Maka may just turn out to be a very interesting way for the world to carry on its conversations in more online and mobile venues than any other provider - if it can finally manage to draw a critical mass of audience share for its social media efforts. Google's efforts to date don't augur well for that likelihood, but as Google seeks to open up mobile markets to more universal and cross-network access it may yet get the upper hand on truly universal social media.