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Google buys mobile social-networking company

Share photos & conduct polls via your handset

Google has acquired a mobile social-networking startup called Zingku in the search company's latest move to provide more services through mobile phones.

Zingku aims to make it easier for people to share photos, send invitations or conduct polls among friends via mobile phone. It also provides a way for businesses to send 'mobile flyers' to customers advertising products and services.

Zingku was started in 2005 and the service has been in testing with a limited number of users in the US. New account signups have been frozen following Google's acquisition, according to Zingku's website. Existing accounts will be transferred to Google unless they are cancelled by 4 October.

Detailed terms of the acquisition weren't provided and Google didn't return calls seeking comment. The company has confirmed that it bought "certain assets and technology of Zingku", according to the Google Operating System blog, which first reported the deal, and is not owned by Google.

Zingku's service is free for end users and aimed at teenagers and people in their 20s. It uses standard text and picture messaging features on mobile phones, and a browser on the web, so no special software has to be installed.

"Our service is designed from the mobile phone, outward, allowing you to create and exchange things of interest ranging from invitations to 'mobile flyers' with friends in a trusted manner," the company said. Users can share content with an "inner circle" of trusted friends, and with friends-of-friends when they want to. They can also subscribe to blog feeds which are delivered via text message.

"With Zingku, things you wish to promote or share can easily be created and fetched via mobile, instant messenger, and web browser," the company says on its site. "Our service integrates your mobile phone with a personalised website so that you can easily move (zing) things back and forth between the web and your mobile as well as powerfully connect with friends and optionally their friends."

The service also has a "shameless commerce" aspect, as Zingku calls it. Merchants can send an access code to customers who can then download a mobile flyer and share it with friends.

The acquisition will fuel the speculation that Google is developing its own mobile phone, although Zingku wouldn't necessarily help it to do that. Rather, it's a service that will allow Google to reach more people on their mobile phones, which are emerging as a new medium for advertising.

It's not the first such investment that Google has made. In 2005 it bought Dodgeball.com, another mobile service that shares information about a user's location and helps them find friends in their local area. Google did little to promote the service, however, and Dodgeball's founders left Google earlier this year complaining that it wasn't investing enough resources in the service.

One thing is for sure about Zingku: it professes the kind of whacky, Web 2.0 culture that Google likes to associate with. It's privacy policy begins: "The success of our business depends on maintaining your privacy. Also, our mothers brought us up properly so even if our business didn't depend upon protecting your privacy, we would STILL protect it because we would experience extreme guilt if we didn't."


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