A look at Google’s acquisitions in 2010 – Part II

by Abhinna Shreshtha    Dec 28, 2010

acquisitionGoogle has been on a spending spree this year as it looks to position itself more strongly as a holistic technology company. With some deals highly strategic and others raising quite a few eyebrows, Google has had an amazing year in terms of acquisition which has seen it acquire a staggering 26 companies till now, not counting a failed bid for Groupon.

We continue with our list of Google’s acquisitions. As in the earlier feature, here’s a list of the companies on the basis of the product they have been incorporated into.

Considering the number of pies Google has its fingers in; it is easy to forget that Google’s main forte is its search engine. Not that it has remained idle on this front; but criticisms have been leveled at the search behemoth that its attitude has become a bit lackadaisical. Well, that may be the case, but 2010 certainly saw a lot of activity from Google around Internet search and it seems mainly around travel.

It started off with the buy out of Ruba.com, an online travel and tour guide. The Ruba team later posted that they have taken down Ruba’s travel guides, Q&A, and community pages and would be ‘pursuing other projects’ within Google. Another travel related acquisition was that of airfare search giant – ITA Software, for $700 million. ITA creates software that enables users to search for flight information, airfares, tickets, etc. and would be a valuable addition to Google’s arsenal.

Apart from these two acquisitions, Google also bought Metaweb and Like.com. Metaweb is a semantic search engine and should bolster Google in an area where it has been slow to pick up steam. Like.com, on the other hand, continues Google’s tryst with Indian entrepreneurs. Founded by serial entrepreneur – Munjal Shah, who had earlier started a company called Riya (incidentally, Google also had its eyes on Riya), Like.com combines e-commerce and visual search to create a pretty nifty product. Google, which has had an interest in the field of visual search, will definitely be happy after snapping up this company.

Voice and Video
On 3rd December, Google acquired Widevine Technologies, which provides on-demand video, DRM and content providing solutions. Widevine’s technology will most probably be integrated with Google TV, the Internet-based video delivery platform that was announced last year. It also acquired another on-demand video provider - Episodic, in April. The most interesting acquisition in this space though was probably that of Phonetic Arts, which was also bought on 3rd December. Phonetic Arts’ solution enables computer-generated voices to sound remarkably life-like. Their technology has so far been used only in games but with Google you can bet there will be a lot more to come out. For example, in a blog posting following the acquisition, Mike Cohen, manager, Speech Technology at Google, hinted at voice outputs by computers and phones. Google has already introduced a number of voice-related products. The Android OS enables users to compose emails, conduct searches, etc. via voice commands; Google Translate has voice capabilities too. It will certainly be interesting to see how Google uses Phonetic Arts’ technology in the future.

Google also made a number of other acquisitions to improve the functionality of products like Google Maps (QuickSee, acquired in September), Google Goggles, etc; besides, it acquired UK-based, visual search start-up PlinkArt in April, whose technology was then integrated with Google Goggles. Online photo-sharing product Picassa also got a level up with the $5 million acquisition of photo-editing company Picnik. In August, it bought Instantiations’ Java and Ajax development tools, which have been incorporated into the Google Web Toolkit (GWT) team.

On the ad front, Invite Media, a display advertising and exchange bidding company that was acquired by DoubleClick, a subsidiary of Google Inc. on June 3rd, 2010 for $81 million. Invite Media was purchased shortly after Google completed their acquisition of AdMob on May 2nd, 2010, raising concerns by certain consumer advocacy groups about Google’s acquisition strategy in the advertisement space.

Agnilux and Groupon
In addition to all these acquisitions is that buy of Agnilux, a server start up based in the US. It’s not really known by anyone what Agnilux is working on, though there have been reports in American publications that it is developing some kind of a server. The people behind it are former Apple employees, so that makes it more interesting. Now what else would Google want with a server startup?

The story that stole the headlines though came during the end of the year when Google launched a failed bid for Groupon. A web-based start-up – Groupon, provides users information about the latest deals happening in their vicinity – a very resourceful type of e-commerce that has already seen scores of clones around the world, including India. The ‘deal-of-the-day’ model that Groupon follows seemed to have caught the eye of Google’s head honchos, who launched a big money bid (which by the end of the saga reached a rumored $6 billion) confident of snapping up the startup. Groupon founder and CEO – Andrew Mason, though, had other ideas. He had already rejected a bid by Yahoo! earlier this year and it didn’t seem like he was going to change his mind now.

What resulted were protracted negotiations with rumors flying left, right, and center, before Google finally held up its hands in resignation. A bitter pill to swallow for the Internet giant, which has seen an otherwise fruitful year in the acquisition market.