HolidayBuyer's Guide

Google buys IM company?

Instant chat has long been on the list of inevitable Google applications. But it may move quickly to the top of the list.

Google has reportedly agreed to buy upstart software maker Meetroduction, based in Chicago. The company's premiere service, Meetro, lets people find one another online within a local radius of a quarter of a mile, or from across the Atlantic; and then chat instantly with those strangers or friends. Meetro's free, downloadable software also doubles as a social-networking application, allowing people to add profiles of themselves and stake out the personal details of other conversationalists.

Paul Bragiel, Meetroduction's CEO, said in an e-mail to CNET that he has been in talks with companies about a sale, but he declined to comment specifically about Google or other potential suitors. "There will be a press release early next week," he wrote.

The blogosphere rumored that Google was the buyer earlier this week, and on Tuesday, reported based on an undisclosed source that the search giant would annouce the acquisition by the end of the week.

Google already owns IM software through its acquisition of Picasa, a photo-sharing service. Picasa developed Hello, instant chat software that lets people swap photos, too.

Combining Hello and Meetro, Google could create a special brew of IM that features social and local networking, photo-sharing and geographic search and mapping. A prospective "Google ME (for messaging)" could help people meet and chat, then exchange photos to make sure there's potential chemistry. If so, two people could search for and read reviews on the local coffee house together using embedded Google search and find a map to the meeting location. Nifty.

Google did not respond to a request for comment for this story. (Google representatives have instituted a policy of not talking with CNET reporters until July 2006 in response to privacy issues raised by a previous story.)