Google Aug. 6 said it agreed to acquire social application provider Slide, a move that strengthens rumors the search engine is gearing up for a major social networking assault versus Facebook.
Google did not say how much it paid for the private company, but TechCrunch claimed the deal was worth $228 million, including $46 million in employee retention bonuses.
Slide makes game widgets and other entertainment applications for social networks such as Facebook and MySpace. The startup makes the popular SuperPoke, in which users throw virtual sheep at each other.
Slide racked up tens of millions of users and was the darling of the social entertainment app space. That is until Zynga came along to make Farmville and Mafia Wars staples on Facebook.
The offering is allegedly called Google Me, though whether that is a code name or not is unclear.
While Google CEO Eric Schmidt confirmed a deal with Zynga is on the horizon, he declined to comment on any plans specific to a social network.
Google is being similarly cagey about what it will do with Slide's widgets and technology, declining to provide any detailed product plans.
However, Google Engineering Director David Glazer noted in a blog post that Google was working to build technology that brings users "closer to friends and family and provide useful information just for them."
"Slide has already created compelling social experiences for tens of millions of people across many platforms, and we've already built strong social elements into products like Gmail, Docs, Blogger, Picasa and YouTube," Glazer said.
While it's unlikely Slide games such as SuperPoke or Top Friends will be tucked into these applications, the company's engineers could be tasked to boost the social aspects of those Web services. Social is, after all, their specialty, and Americans love playing games online, Nielsen found.
"As the Slide team joins Google, we'll be investing even more to make Google services socially aware and expand these capabilities for our users across the Web."
Altimeter Group analyst Jeremiah Owyang told eWEEK Slide is a foothold into Facebook, allowing Google to access the data Slide's millions of users generated as a result of using Slide apps such as SuperPoke and Top Friends.
"This is a smart buy for them and it leaves Facebook exposed," Owyang said, adding that Slide could be one of the conduits to connect Facebook to Google's eventual social network.
The challenge, of course, is that Google is marshaling social services two or three years too late.
Facebook has 500 million-plus users, many of whom are using applications and exchanging virtual goods. Facebook's Like button is proliferating across both obscure and well known Websites at a prodigious pace.
Trying to steer users from Facebook is like Microsoft trying to steer users from Google. And everyone knows how that is working out.
Even with Zynga and Slide, Google has its work cut out.