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Have you heard the one about Google going social?

There's a rumor for every possibility about a new social networking platform

March 14, 2011 05:27 PM ET

Computerworld - If you're following the rumor mill about whether Google is going to release a social network of its own, your head may be spinning.

Online speculation is all over the place today, and Google isn't doing much to clear up on the confusion.

For months now, online chatter has focused on whether Google is secretly working on its own social networking site - something that focuses on gaming or maybe one that focuses on music or movies. Whatever it is - and whether it's called Google Me or Google Circle -- it's been called more than once a Facebook killer.

That's pretty optimistic since Google hasn't had much luck in the social networking genre. After all, last August Google did throw in the towel on its first social networking effort - Google Wave. Not an auspicious start, according to industry analysts.

So, what prompted this week's spate of speculation?

First there was a lot of talk that Google would be unveiling a social networking service called Google Circle at SXSW, the film, interactive and music festival now under way in Austin, Texas.

But on Sunday a tweet from @googlesxsw dashed those rumors, saying, "We're not launching any products at #SXSW but we're doing plenty else."

The saga continues.

Google's Chris Messina, dubbed a developer evangelist at Google, reportedly told AllThingsDigital that the company is not launching its own social network.

You would think that would put the idea to bed.

But over the weekend, technology pundit Tim O'Reilly, added fuel to the fire when he tweeted, "I've seen google circles, and it looks awesome." The tweet has since been pulled and O'Reilly reportedly told AllThingsDigital that "It's not a product, per se, and it's not a new social network. Just some research-y thinking about how you could better manage social data."

Sources tell Computerworld that Messina didn't actually mean to say that Google isn't working on a social platform. The company is working to make various products more social but is staying mum about whether a stand-alone platform is in the works.

In an emailed response to Computerworld, a Google spokeswoman said she doesn't have any information about when or if a platform will launch.

That hardly settles things, according to Dan Olds, an analyst with The Gabriel Consulting Group. Olds said it's obviously unclear what Google is doing, though it is clear that the company should be doing something in the social arena.

"Whether Google is building its own social network or not, they have to respond to the surge of Facebook and the power inherent in the Facebook business model," he added. "Even though the two companies seemingly don't compete directly, they really do. They compete for user attention and time. They also both have very valuable data they can supply to businesses."

Olds also noted that he doesn't think Google needs to launch its own platform, but it does need to make its current services more social, which in turn would make them more useful.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at Twitter @sgaudin or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed Gaudin RSS. Her e-mail address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

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