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Google buys Angstro, hires co-founder to build social networking service

The Internet giant, striving to counter the growth of Facebook, brings in Rohit Khare, whose firm had built innovative tools for social media.

August 28, 2010|By Jessica Guynn, Los Angeles Times

Reporting from San Francisco — Google Inc. is stockpiling technology and talent for what many believe will be a full-on assault against Silicon Valley rival Facebook Inc.

As part of its campaign to build a social networking service to counter the explosive growth of Facebook, Google confirmed Friday that it had bought up Internet company Angstro and hired its co-founder Rohit Khare.

Khare, a respected Internet researcher, is one of several new faces at Google charged with helping the Internet search giant compete for the eyeballs and dollars increasingly flowing to social networking.

Earlier this month, it recruited Max Levchin, the PayPal Inc. co-founder who was chief executive of Internet company Slide, to become a vice president of engineering and take a lead role in its social media efforts. Google bought Slide for $182 million plus $46 million in retention bonuses.

A Google spokesman confirmed the acquisition of Angstro but declined to comment on Khare's role at the company. Google employee Joseph Smarr said on Twitter: "Thrilled to welcome @rohitkhare to Google to help us work on building a better social web!"

Dubbed "Google Me" inside the company, the social networking service is in stealth mode and Google will not discuss it. The stakes are high for Google. Facebook's threat to Google's dominance on the Web is Topic A in Silicon Valley, debated daily by technology executives and investors.

Many consumers now turn not just to Google but to their friends on Facebook to find content, products and services on the Internet. Facebook is increasingly driving more traffic across the Web, Forrester Research analyst Augie Ray said.

Former Google executives are running the booming advertising business at Facebook, which boasts more than 500 million users. Speculation is growing that Facebook could launch its own advertising network across the Web to compete with Google's advertising network AdSense.

"There is this growing pressure because Google isn't seeming as relevant as it once did in terms of being a forward-thinking company," Ray said. "Google had a big role in changing the world 10 years ago. Now the world is changing again and Google looks more like a follower than a leader."

Khare joined Google because of vice president of engineering Vic Gundotra's pledge that Google is serious about social, a person familiar with the situation said.

Khare is a good fit for Google because he envisions a Web that is open, not confined to one website such as Facebook. Google's search engine cannot access much of Facebook.

Khare made the announcement that he had shut down Angstro and joined Google in a note on his company's website. "I'm looking forward to working on that in my new role at Google," Khare wrote.

"He has built a lot of interesting pieces that would be useful to anyone building a social network," the person said.

One product that Khare created exports information from Facebook and other social networks. Angstro built a service that scoured the Web and the blogosphere for news about a user's friends from sites like Facebook and LinkedIn and delivered it to the user.

Google's buying spree signals that it's coming up with a cohesive social networking strategy, unlike its "disconnected" efforts in the past, such as Google Buzz, the service that launched inside Gmail accounts but has not gained traction, Ray said.

"It's a big company with a lot of money. They have thrown a lot against the wall to see what works," he said. "They have reached the point now where they can't just experiment."

jessica.guynn@latimes.com

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