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Google buys Slide, makes social network splash

By David Goldman, staff writer

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Google announced Friday that it has agreed to purchase social networking app maker Slide for an undisclosed amount.

The deal marks the latest try for the search giant to make some headway into the world of social networking. So far, Google has mostly failed in its attempts, including the poorly received Orkut and Google Buzz. Though the terms weren't disclosed, various new reports have put the value at between $180 million and $230 million.

The SuperPoke! website.

"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," said David Glazer, Google's engineering director, in a company blog post.

With Slide, Google is scooping up a developer with an already well-established presence on Facebook, MySpace and other networks. Slide makes a number of popular social games like SuperPoke! Pets, Rock Riot, Top Friends and FunSpace.

The company once had the most popular apps on Facebook, but it has slid significantly in the past two years. Slide still has 15 million active users, but among its developer rivals that user base is only the 14th largest, according to AppData.com.

Launched in 2005 by PayPal co-founder Max Levchin, Slide originally only offered a photo-sharing software that allows users to create picture slide shows. Levchin sold PayPal for $1.5 billion, but he had even bigger expectations for Slide: If he sold it for $1.5 billion like Paypal, Levchin told Bloomberg in 2007, he "would regard it as abject failure."

Google's announcement comes several weeks after Google also made an investment in social app leader Zynga, reportedly worth $150 million. Zynga has a user base of 268 million, five times the nearest competitor.

At the Techonomy conference in Tahoe, Calif., on Wednesday, Google CEO Eric Schmidt explained generally what the search site is trying to do improve its social networking strategy.

"We've always believed that our products would be better with more social signals," Schmidt said. "There's example after example how having access to a robust social graph that's reasonably well-curated can improve the quality of the services of what Google does."

But Schmidt insisted that, "We're not trying to do what Facebook does." He said social networking could help Google improve its search results to better understand the context of a user's query, and e-mail spam would improve if it knew what a user and his or her friends thought was valuable.

Slide is likely just a small part of that strategy, but perhaps a profitable one. Users can download Slide's apps for free, but some decorations and virtual gifts cost money. Venture capitalists have taken notice, and In January 2008, Slide took in $50 million in a funding round.

Shares of Google (GOOG, Fortune 500) slipped 2% on Friday. To top of page

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