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Google's About 'Face'

Google is at it again. It's taken on Yahoo. It's taken on Microsoft. Apple.

So why not Facebook, too?

This is getting a lot of ink, but I'm not sure any of this is ready for prime time. I'm as eager as the next guy to see what Google's got up its sleeve at a 1p webcast presser. If you believe the hype, which has been circulating for months, Google will unveil a suite of new capabilities for its Gmail service, ostensibly so it can go head to head with Facebook.

Some of the additions will include ways for Gmail users to post and view messages about day-to-day activities, also a way to share and stream videos and photos. Status updates will also be included so Google can look a little more like Facebook. Even Twitter.

If all of this sounds an awful lot like Google's already-in-existence social networking service Orkut, you're right. Orkut's been moderately popular elsewhere in the world, but nothing and no one has been able to manage a plausible threat against Facebook.

Facebook burst on the scene after MySpace devolved into an ad platform for News Corp. Timing was everything. Facebook quickly filled the void of disgruntled MySpacers, giving them a nice option to jump to. Facebook was nimble, and seized on a clear opportunity.

That isn't the case with Google's attempt to take on Facebook. Unlike MySpace, Facebook only seems to be tightening its stranglehold on social networking. Google's time was two years ago or so, when Facebook might have been more vulnerable. Instead, Facebook's momentum only seems to be accelerating, and if you believe the press, it's finally turning a profit.

By going after Facebook now, with tweaks to Gmail, Google isn't showing innovation. Instead, it's proving how stodgy it has become. Apple was late to digital music but transformed the business when with its entry. Apple was late to smart phones, but transformed the business with its entry. The jury's still out on tablets.

I'm not sure Google will enjoy the same allure. The company's Nexus One smart phone, unleashed on the market with so much fanfare, has sputtered. Google's track record of entering new businesses, and enjoying success, is spotty at best. I sense these tweaks to Gmail may be headed down the same path.

Look, I don't begrudge Google for trying: I think the company is absolutely doing the right thing by exploring new, potential revenue streams. But before we go all crazy, that Google has come up with a Facebook killer, I would liken this to Microsoft's Zune trying to eat away at Apple's iPod juggernaut. Or Microsoft's Bing trying to take on Google itself.

I think Google gives this all a try, and then ends up buying Twitter.

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