Google's history with social networking has been tumultuous, to say the least. The most successful attempt has been Google+, which gave competitors Facebook and Twitter reason to be concerned, but ultimately went into disrepair and finally shut down back in April. Few will remember another long lost attempt that went by the name Schemer, a hyperlocal social network designed to help people discover and plan things to do in their area. Things also went poorly for Schemer and it was retired after just 2 years. Now it looks like Google's experimental Area 120 group is taking a run at resurrecting this style of app with a new service called Shoelace.
Unlike the standard social networks which focus on current relationships between people, Shoelace is oriented toward meeting new people and growing your social circle. The basic experience is structured around matching users based on their interests and making it easier to plan and meet up at events.
The app is currently invite-only, and according to its FAQ, the developers are launching in New York City and partnering with select communities for now. It sounds like the plan is to roll this out slowly at first. It also appears that Shoelace is limited to just mobile apps for now (Android v8.0+ and iOS v11.0+), there's no sign that it's supported on the web.
Shoelace appears to rely on a fairly substantial amount of human curation at this time, as it both promises daily hand-picked activity suggestions and requires verification for each person before they can join a community. This might mean that the growth plan involves finding community organizers to keep everything working smoothly.
For those that remember Schemer, there's a lot about Shoelace that looks familiar. Everything from launching with an invite-only onboarding process to the use cute names to represent parts of the service — Activities are called "Loops," which were once also called "Schemes" — it feels like a lot of Schemer was used as a template. Although, one of the biggest drawbacks to Schemer was a lack of good moderation, which may be a big part of the strategy to keep Shoelace on the right track.
One thing to keep in mind is that the Area 120 group was created to house Google's experimental projects. This began with the Reply app, which started work on Smart Replies before they were formally added to the OS. The group later expanded to a city guide called Touring Bird and a podcast app called Shortwave. It's possible Shoelace is launching in this way to keep expectations at a minimum until Google can establish if it's wise to set any long term goals.