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Is 'Google Me' Ready to Challenge Facebook?

Google Takes on Facebook

A twitter post from Digg founder Kevin Rose claims that Google is developing a service to compete with Facebook.

Some 140 characters have the Internet wondering: Is Google planning a competitor for Facebook?

Thanks to a brief post by the well-connected founder of the Digg tech news site, rumors are swirling that a "Google Me" service is in the works -- possibly something that will compete with the runaway freight train of social networking.

Digg's Kevin Rose wrote 14 words late Saturday night: "Huge rumor: Google to launch Facebook competitor very soon "Google Me," very credible source." Rose is well known, however, for spreading rumors -- especially surrounding Apple products and services. 

But he's also known for getting it right.

A Facebook spokesman refused to comment on the speculation, and Google was equally reluctant to discuss the rumors. But despite the scarce details, there's every reason to believe the rumors, experts say. For one thing, Google already has most of the components required for a social-networking site: The Google Profiles function lets you create a personal page with your info, while Google Buzz lets you create brief status updates, just like those on Facebook or Twitter. And Latitude lets you share location info with your friends.

"Latitude has 3 million users reportedly (per Google), but Buzz may be all but dead," cautioned Greg Sterling, a contributing editor of Google-watcher Search Engine Land. But "a merger of Latitude and Buzz would be interesting and potentially useful," he noted. 

Then there's the quirky Google Wave, an online communication and collaboration tool that arguably replicates some of what Facebook does. But those are all disjointed features, noted PCMag.com editor in chief Lance Ulanoff, and they lack the market share and momentum of Facebook.

"Google Buzz has not made the mark Google hoped it would," he told FoxNews.com, "and Wave is exciting, but still far too esoteric for most people. In other words, Google has yet to get it right on the social-interaction side. I expect it will keep trying -- because it can -- until it does."

Real or not, experts are skeptical that any such service could topple Facebook, which currently has more than 450 million users and expects to pass 500 shortly. According to market-research firm Hitwise, social networking sites garner increasingly more visits than search engines today. In May, 14.5% of all website traffic was to social networking sites and forums, while search engines accounted for slightly more than 10%.

"What Google and everyone else has to remember is that Facebook was not an overnight success. It took years to get here and it’s still on the rise. I doubt Google Buzz will ever challenge Facebook," Ulanoff added. 

Harry McCracken, the founder of tech site Technologizer.com and the former editor in chief of PC World magazine, takes it a step further: "You know, I'm not sure that Google should try to take on Facebook," he told FoxNews.com. 

"The fact that Buzz got off to such a rocky start shows that people don't necessarily want their relationship with Google to be a foundation for social networking." And Danny Sullivan, Search Engine Land's editor in chief, is even less optimistic for Google's unreleased social-networking site. He wonders whether that functionality is even in Google's DNA.

"So far, Google’s failed to have a hit in the social-networking space, swinging and largely missing with both Orkut and Buzz. It’s unclear whether a third, new service (or a renamed Buzz) will do that much better," he told FoxNews.com.

 

Jeremy A. Kaplan is Science and Technology editor at FoxNews.com, where he heads up coverage of gadgets, the online world, space travel, nature, the environment, and more. Prior to joining Fox, he was executive editor of PC Magazine, co-host of the Fastest Geek competition, and a founding editor of GoodCleanTech.