What's "social"? In my opinion, it's not really a thing, it's more of a something that you put on top of things. Facebook put social on top of photos and education. Twitter did it on publishing. Foursquare on moving, Groupon on buying. Can you see where I'm headed? It's hard to make social out of nothing, you have to have something, and then you can make that something (even more) social. And Google will have to do the same thing (and Neolab too). Don't make social, make things social instead.
Since Larry Page became CEO of Google, things have been moving ahead. The +1 button is one thing. Showing activity of your social vicinity inside Google search is another. Both upgrading Google's core service with social. It's also smart they've (finally) made a Google "dashboard", the social Google+, where you can socialize with your Google account. It looks promising, even though it resembles Facebook. But it's the services that count.
Circles (grouping people) seem cool, since Facebook's relationship model is flat and they will have problems to persuade people to make groups / lists. I would arrange my Gmail contacts and put them into groups in needed, since I would be doing it as I go along, and it's easy to do. Sparks seem nice, providing content based on your preferences. Again, (probably) powered by search and complex mathematical algorithms, where Google dominates. I won't comment on photos and chat for now, but this time, Google's social attempt went from improvisation to consolidation of their existing services (search and accounts). Use what you got, especially if that works.
What about email?
I said I would consider arranging my contacts. Yes, we finally come to Gmail. Once I was writing about how I would love a "social" smartphone, since smartphone is a social device in its essence. But isn't email also social in its essence? The first online social service to be exact? Forgotten somewhere, forever not classified as social?
It is very much social, and it might as well be what Google's desperately looking for. I would love to have a social inbox. Not by including profile pictures from Facebook, but really social, in a new innovative way. Grouping emails by Circles, reading email correspondence on someone's profile, suggesting Circles on email recipients. Commenting, liking emails. Not having separate email contacts and social friends, but just people. Enterprise 2.0 shit included even. (And fully integrated with Android, of course.)
A mobile social inbox
That would really be neat. Google, you obviously understand that future lies in platforms, and you should stop trying to put useless things like Buzz and business cards inside Gmail. Gmail is fine. Now it's time you use it somewhere else, use it as a platform. With all your Gmail users, they just might provide the critical mass you need to pull this off, while differentiating yourself from Facebook at the same time. That's it. Search and Mail. Make that fully social inside Google+, these are the segments you're a market leader in! And mobile! And you'll win the next round. But you probably already know that?