This morning, Google announced the launch of Google Latitude, its location-based mobile social networking application for mobile devices. Similar to other products like Loopt, Whrrl and Brightkite, it allows users to position themselves on a Google map (either manually or using your phone’s GPS), leave a status update message (like on Twitter or Facebook) and share (or not) that information (location and message) with your friends.
Although the current service does not really innovate vs. the other three players I mentioned above, what’s very powerful is the ability to invite all your Gmail contacts (your “friends”) to connect to you in your mobile social network. Google understands that a large portion of your social graph resides in your e-mail software. Privacy is of utmost importance in a service like this and you can decide on various privacy settings for each friend. There is a nice online integration as well through an iGoogle application allowing you to interact with the service there.
What it means: think of Latitude as the next platform play for Google. Expect them to integrate it with Google Friend Connect to allow anyone to use those pieces of technology inside their own Web sites. I firmly believe that kind of feature/site infrastructure (friends/location/status updates) will be used by a majority of sites in the next five years and Google is hoping to capture a large portion of that market. Facebook, with its far superior Facebook Connect, is already ahead of Google on the friend infrastructure side but will need to play catchup and launch their own local/social platform as well in order to compete in that field.