July 22, 2011, 11:48 AM

Google buys a social network operator

The search giant plans to fold the Fridge into the fledgling Google+.

Lead Photo

Google Inc. has bought Fridge, a group-focused social networking site, according to Fridge’s official blog. The acquisition appears designed to boost the appeal and capabilities of the new Google+ social network.

Fridge offers a communication tool aimed at making it easy for consumers to share photos and other information within that consumer’s group; Google will fold the tool into Google+, which features its own grouping tool called Circles that enables users to organize their connections. Those Circles may be “Stanford friends,” for instance, or “Chicago Family.” That approach would enable a consumer to share a link with his college friends but not with his family. Meanwhile, that user might share an anecdote with his parents but not his coworkers.

A key difference between the Fridge’s groups and Circles is that a single consumer manages his own Circles, while the Fridge’s groups are collectively managed; generally, that means users have the authority to approve new members, delete posts and perform similar tasks. That’s why the acquisition could foreshadow the release of some type of collaborative sharing tool on Google+. “We strongly believe in the group social experience and couldn’t think of a better place to realize our vision of bringing the nuance and richness of real-life sharing to the web as part of the Google+ Project,” reads the Fridge blog.

Google did not say how it paid for Fridge and did not immediately respond to a request for more information. The acquisition appears aimed at increasing the amount of information that consumers share on Google+ and the amount of time they spend on the site as Google works to grab some of Facebook’s market share. Last week Google CEO Larry Page said that more than 1 billion items are shared on the Google+ site each day. For comparison, Facebook says that each month consumers share more than 30 billion pieces of content, including web links, news stories and photos.

The battle for market share is really a battle for ad placement, as the more time consumers spend on social networks, the more opportunities they have to target users with ads. 157.2 million consumers visited Facebook in May, according to web measurement firm comScore Inc. Those consumers are particularly valuable because they looked at 103 billion pages and spent an average of 375 minutes on the site, providing Facebook plenty of opportunity to show them ads. That helps explain how Facebook has been able to garner nearly one in three online display ads on the web, according to a recent comScore report.

In the same month, comScore says consumers viewed 46.3 billion pages and spent 231 minutes with Google sites, such as YouTube and Gmail, but not including Google+, which launched in June; today, comScore said Google+ attracted 20 million unique visitors, including 5 million in the United States.

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