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Google beefing up new 'Social Web Team'

Will Norris, an open-standards advocate, joins new Google hires Chris Messina and Joseph Smarr on a new squad to tackle a niche of the Web that's completely dominated by Facebook.

Is Google plotting to encroach upon Facebook's comfy territory? Well, it seems it's launched a sort of social-networking task force: Open-standards guru Will Norris announced on his blog Tuesday that he'll be starting a new job at Google on February 1, joining a few other prominent social-networking thinkers who have also recently made the jump to Mountain View.

"I'm happy to announce today that I've accepted a job at Google, working on the newly formed Social Web team," Norris wrote on his blog. "I will be joining fellow new hires Joseph Smarr and Chris Messina, as well as a host of other incredibly talented engineers, in contributing to the emerging standards and growing developer community in this space."

Joseph Smarr announced in December that he was leaving his job as chief technology officer at Plaxo to join Google; Messina, a high-profile member of the OpenID Foundation and Open Web Foundation, announced several weeks later that he'd also be joining Google as "Open Web Advocate."

Google's involvement with social-networking and community sites has been spotty at best: its Orkut social network is still big in Brazil, but minute elsewhere; its OpenSocial and Friend Connect projects have been generally well-regarded experiments, but completely smoked by Facebook in terms of prominence. Late last year, rumors began to swirl that Google was close to acquiring Yelp, a business reviews site with a large and active community, but the reported $750 million deal fell through.