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Rumor: Google building social networking site to compete with Facebook

July 2, 2010 |  6:00 am

Any rumor, no matter how thinly sourced, that involves the clash of Internet rivals Google and Facebook gets attention. This time Silicon Valley is speculating that Google is working on a social network to compete with Facebook called Google Me.

That speculation stems from a tweet by Digg CEO Kevin Rose that he has since deleted (“Ok, umm, huge rumor: Google to launch facebook competitor very soon ‘Google Me’, very credible source”) and from comments on Quora from former Facebook CTO and Quora founder Adam D’Angelo. D’Angelo wrote that he had heard from reliable sources that Google has made the project a high priority.

Google does not comment on rumors or speculation. Its chief executive, Eric Schmidt, wouldn’t deny the rumor at the Guardian’s Activate conference Thursday.

“That would be a product announcement and I won’t say,” Schmidt said.

Google has made no secret that it's very focused on becoming more social. So far, its attempts to create social networks have not met with much success. Google Buzz, which it launched earlier this year, has not taken off. Its social network Orkut, which has been around since 2004, is popular in Brazil but reaches only 2% of Internet users.

But Google already has a significant number of social properties including YouTube.com, Picasa, Blogger and Google Latitude, not to mention Google Profiles, which it could roll into a single platform. It has hired open social Web experts Joseph Smarr and Chris Messina. It added Twitter updates past and present to search results. It has made search more social by including results from your social circle. And it hired an executive search firm to recruit a "head of social."

It's unlikely that Google is preparing to roll out a Facebook clone. Whereas Facebook is basically a universe unto itself, Google emphasizes openness. A Google service that runs on open standards and with an open ID system, i.e., letting users punch in one password on multiple sites, take their personal data with them when they leave a network or maintain the same profile on multiple services, could give Facebook a run for its money.

The stakes are high: Facebook is speeding ahead, gathering tons of data through its recently launched "Like" feature. "Like" buttons on tens of thousands of websites yield invaluable information about the preferences of its users (and their friends), which could ultimately help Facebook develop a more personalized method of ranking Web pages and of targeting advertising. 

Stay tuned.

-- Jessica Guynn

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