Did Google Sabotage Ringside Networks?

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2008-10-01 Print this article Print

UPDATED: Despite the moves of several Internet companies to be open regarding users' social data, the social Web is still a competitive landscape.

It seems Ringside Networks, the now defunct creator of social software applications that let Web sites operators embed social capabilities within their Web sites, got a taste of that scenario, which led to its closing, announced Sept. 24.

According to this post from Ringside co-founder Bob Bickel, Ringside was on the verge of finalizing funding that would buoy the company in 2008 when "one of the biggest non-evil Internet companies asked if we would have interest in being acquired instead."

I appreciate Om Malik's diplomacy but I have no doubt until I hear otherwise that the company Bickel refers to is Google, which operates on the principle of "Don't be evil." Here's the dark side of the story:

After dragging out the process for most of the summer, the non-evil company decided that they really did not want to acquire the company after all. Recommendation: always beware of wolves dressed as Grandma, they may be more like Microsoft than they admit.

Google declined to comment. Ringside didn't respond to my query, but, again, I'm going to go ahead and assume Bickel is referring to Google. So, let's mull what could have happened.

I suspect Google was super-interested in Ringside's social application server, which works with both Facebook and the Google-launched OpenSocial API, as well as SocialPass, Ringside's core social application.

Check out this video from Ringside co-founder Shaun Connolly to see how SocialPass works with Ticketmaster. SocialPass could have provided the vehicle to drive the OpenSocial API Google wants so badly to cultivate as an alternative to Facebook.

Why Google backed away is a mystery, but I've come this far, so let me take a shot.

It's possible Google is working on a similar piece of software and viewed Ringside as a threat. In which case, Google could have pretended to want SocialPass and led Ringside and its crew down the primrose path (thank you, "Ferris Bueller"), only to pull out and leave Ringside in the lurch.

By that time, as Bickel notes, Ringside had "used up all of our seed money. And by backing away from our Series A offers, we kind of burned the VCs. Even better, our development had stalled because of our desires to build stuff aligned with our new direction in the non-evil company."

Interesting that Bickel describes the company as "non-evil." Pretty much everyone is going to assume he meant Google (whether he does or not), which means he's just burned that bridge for good. Clearly, Bickel doesn't care.

Moreover, he seems convinced, like others of late, that Google has assumed the mantle of the Microsoft of the Web.

We may never know what happened between Ringside and the non-evil company, but the demise of the company reminds us that nothing -- not even among philanthropic-seeming social software players -- is sacred in the cutthroat Web economy.

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