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Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Google Buys Into Microblogging (Jaiku)

That was actually a test. If you actually know what Jaiku is, you have probably already heard about the acquisition on Twitter or on Jaiku itself. In other words, you are on the vanguard of trying to evolve a new sensory organ devoted to instantly perceiving what your friends are doing at any moment (and at the same time, how to profit from the latest technology trends).
Otherwise, you probably assumed Jaiku is some game played with dice that Google will put in its employee lounges. I'll bet this second group represents something that rounds easily to 100 percent of the adult population.
For all of those people: Jaiku, like Twitter, is what has become known as a microblogging service that lets people send short blasts of information about themselves to their friends and to the public. The company is based in Helsinki, and was founded by Jyri Engeström and Petteri Koponen. Not surprisingly both have been heavily involved in the mobile phone world. (Here are Google's blog post and Jaiku's FAQ on the deal.)
Despite the obsession of a small corner of Silicon Valley with Twitter, I suspect this is hardly a blip in the evolution of the Internet. The terms of the deal were not announced, but doubtless the company was sold for an amount in the millions or low tens of millions of dollars.
Google is not picking up a significant number of users in buying Jaiku. And I don't see any evidence that Jaiku has technology that is very hard to build. So we've got to assume Google is paying a lot of money to hire a small group of engineers it likes, as it tends to do.
This may also be a sign that Google has overstaffed its business development department and is doing deals just to keep them busy.
Still, Jaiku and Twitter, which recently raised money from Union Square Ventures, are onto something. AOL Instant Messenger showed that there is something very engaging about watching what other people we know are doing - logging on and off, putting simple information in their 'away' messages. Facebook found a way to amplify this with an easy to update "status" message, brilliantly aggregated into a personal newsfeed for each user. Twitter and Jaiku, of course, are the newsfeed without the rest of the service.
So the question here, of course, is whether status updates really will become a mass product on a standalone service, or whether they will be a feature of some other more complex offering.
You've got to bet that status, presence and so on constitute a feature. It's too easy to add these to other services that are more engaging. And I suspect that there are enough other sites wanting to expand their use for social communication that there will be many offers for Twitter whenever it decides it's time to sell.
Google, after all, has decided that it is simply too complex to create a new interface for each good idea and has been on a campaign to focus on developing "features not products." The best example of this is the integration of its instant message system into Gmail. Indeed, you can already see little orange icons showing which of your Gmail contacts are online at any given moment. And it is easy to imagine that this interface could easily add a stream of text or photo blasts too.
I'm sure some users would like that. What's not clear is why Google needed to buy a standalone company to offer it.
By the way, I asked Google for comment and haven't heard back yet. I'll update this post if they reply and add anything.

UPDATE: I just ran across this bit of fan mail to Jaiku from Tim O'Reilly. He is particularly enamored of how the service can integrate into the address book of a few high-end cellphones. As you start to dial a person, you can see their latest status update and where they are. As Google moves into the phone software business, it's possible that this sort of feature might be interesting. Google certainly has a fondness for services that relates to geographical location.

Google buys Finnish startup Jaiku.

Google announced on Tuesday it is buying Jaiku, a Finnish startup specializing in letting friends use mobile telephones to share what they are doing at any given moment.

Google is making a priority of following Internet users as they go mobile and is even reported to be crafting a "gphone" with an open-source software platform tailored to its online services.

Jaiku is a social networking and mini-messaging service that enables people to keep track of each others' activities while on the move using curt missives sent to mobile telephones.

The Helsinki-based firm founded early last year by Jyri Engestrom and Petteri Koponen has been compared to the popular US-based service Twitter.

"Technology has made staying in touch with your friends and family both easier and harder," Google product manager Tony Hsieh wrote in a posting on the California firm's website.

"Living a fast-paced, on-the-go lifestyle is easier (and a lot of fun), but it's more difficult to keep track of everyone when they're running around at warp speed. That's why we're excited to announce that we've acquired Jaiku."

Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Last month, Google's quest for devotees in the booming world of mobile online services led to its purchase of Zingku, a startup company that streamlines sharing pictures, messages and more via smart phones..

About Jaiku
Jaiku is now a part of Google. For more details about Jaiku and Google, see the Q&A about the acquisition.

Jaiku's main goal is to bring people closer together by enabling them to share their activity streams. An activity stream is a log of everyday things as they happen: your status messages, recommendations, events you're attending, photos you've taken - anything you post directly to Jaiku or add using Web feeds. We offer a way to connect with the people you care about by sharing your activities with them on the Web, IM, and SMS - as well as through a slew of cool third-party applications built by other developers using our API.

The most powerful instrument of social peripheral vision is your mobile phone. We've put in a special effort to create Jaiku Mobile, a live phonebook that displays the activity streams, availability, and location of your Jaiku contacts right in your phone contact list. We modestly believe it is the best solution out there for seeing what your friends are up to. Currently Jaiku Mobile is available for phones based on the Nokia S60 software platform (see the list of compatible devices).

Check out our Jaikido blog for updates about the service. We appreciate your feedback, so feel free to comment away on the blog - or join our feedback and ideas channel.

For an insider's view into things happening at Jaiku, follow the updates from Jaiku Team

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