Updated at 10:20 a.m. PT: Sources within Google deny that anything will be launched at SXSW this evening and say that the ReadWriteWeb report is inaccurate.
When it comes to social networks, Google has not managed to garland itself in too much glory. Critics suggest Google doesn't quite understand what makes people buzz.
And yet an interesting report has emerged that says Google might be using an event at SXSW this evening to launch--or, at least, preview--a new social network.
According to ReadWriteWeb, Google's social network is to be called Circles. At its heart it purportedly has something that seems crucial in today's socially networked world--privacy.
The idea seems to be that this social network will allow you to share every part of your being--namely status updates, photos, and videos--with a very specific group of friends (hence the name "Circles"), rather than with the great unwashed and unfiltered.
The report suggests that Google might be at least offering a sneak peek of this concept tonight, at an event co-hosted by the ACLU, an organization that feels there is nothing mutually exclusive between privacy and freedom.
Philosophically, it would appear that this idea recognizes the fundamental truth that we are not one personality to everyone. As we connect to different social groupings, we offer a different side of ourselves--the side that we feel most comfortable showing to that group.
It may well be that after some time within a particular group, we feel better about revealing some of our more hidden traits. But that is our choice. One that this purported social network seeks reportedly to respect.
If Google Circles truly is as described in what is still a speculative report, one possible danger is that it will turn out to be complicated. It's hard enough in the real world to work out who your friends are. Worse, one day someone is your friend, and the next, they're someone you used to know.
Managing all the different permutations online might require a considerable amount of aforethought, accuracy, and alertness. These are things that don't necessarily rhyme with a world that is increasingly lazy and laissez-faire.
Still, the heart of the idea seems a very interesting one and one can only hope that it also puts pressure on Facebook to consider how much easier its own privacy controls have truly become. It will also put additional pressure on Google to consider even more carefully its own attitude to privacy, given such difficult snafus as the "Oops, we appear to have recorded some e-mails over Wi-Fi" incident.
I have contacted Google for confirmation of Google Circles and all who sail in it and will update should I hear from the company.