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Google plays Dodgeball
Search giant acquires text message-based social network service as it moves to compete with Yahoo!
May 12, 2005: 2:58 PM EDT
By Katie Benner, CNN/Money staff writer

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - Wanna go where everybody knows your name? Google will make it happen.

The search giant has acquired Dodgeball.com, a free text-message service that lets users tell a list of their selected friends their location at any moment.

A user "checks in" at a given location, sending his or her location information to other Dodgeball-using friends who happen to be within a 10-block radius.

The terms of the deal were not disclosed when Dodgeball announced the deal Wednesday. Calls to Google were not returned.

"As a two-person team, Alex and I have taken Dodgeball about a far as we can alone," Dennis Crowley, founder of the New York-based text messaging service, wrote on the company's Web site.

The brainchild of recent New York University graduates Dennis Crowley and Alex Rainert, Dodgeball also offers a "crush" service that allows users to contact five people whom they are interested in.

When the crush walks within 10 blocks, they will be sent the user's location, a brief message saying who has a crush on them and a photo.

Mobile phone text messaging, a service that has taken off in Europe and Asia, is still a fledgling business in the United States.

"U.S. adoption of handset services has typically lagged behind those regions by a couple of years," said Jason Avilio, vice president at First Albany capital.

"Google is likely playing that trend and getting into text messaging now." said Avilio.

Google (down $2.83 to $228.46, Research) has become more than a simple search engine, tacking on services like e-mail, driving directions, maps and localized business directories.

And the company has used acquisitions to become more of a consumer lifestyle company, buying Picasa, a digital photo management company; Keyhole, a digital and satellite image mapping company, and now Dodgeball.com.

"Google has a clearly defined revenue stream, and that's online advertising. So anything to drive users to the site is positive for Google," said David Garrity, managing director at New York-based investment bank Caris & Co.

"You can argue that they're looking at the path Yahoo! has broken, and it's a good one to follow," said Garrity. "But you could also argue that Yahoo! is moving at a much more rapid pace and that Google has a lot of catching up to do."

Analysts also feel Dodgeball plays into an important strategic initiative in the paid search market: attracting local advertisers.

"The service is very local in nature," said Avilio. "You ask friends to come meet you at city-specific places, and those places will want to advertise. Google is creating more networks for businesses to reach consumers through their handsets."

Google is also going to China. Click here for more.  Top of page

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