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So explain again why Google doesn't clone Orkut?

A Google bigwig again doused speculation the company may challenge Facebook--but this idea may get revived.

Brazil, the biggest nation in Latin America, has a number of firsts to its name. It's got the world's best football (soccer in the parlance of you Americans), the country is leagues ahead of everybody else on Planet Earth when it comes to alternative energy--and its citizenry have taken over Orkut. I'm still not clear why Brazilians so groove on this particular social network, but "quem sabe?"

So would the same formula, tailored for a North American audience, work the same magic north of the border? I put the question to Joe Kraus, whom I bumped into Monday at Adobe's San Francisco get-together. "Forget it" was the answer. Kraus should know: he directs product management at Google.

Joe Kraus

For the record, Kraus says the company's focus continues to be on Open Social. That's the ballyhooed initiative announced late last year that uses open-source code to allow social media sites to incorporate common application program interfaces and create "universal" applications.

Important, perhaps, but utterly boring. It would be so much more fun to watch Google try and rearrange the constellation of forces by starting a new social network. And since there seems no limit to the company's ambitions, why suddenly become modest when the topic turns to social networking? Nobody's yet confused Mark Zuckerberg with the second coming of Don Corleone.

Google's strategists have toyed with the idea of "doing an Orkut" and proponents inside the company indeed can make a plausible case for moving ahead with such a project. Considering how Facebook is in league with Microsoft, Google could wind up with a "twofer," causing grief both to a looming rival as well as its archenemy.

If you want a precedent, consider what Google is doing with its application suite. I very much doubt Google's managing troika believes it can destroy Microsoft's Office franchise. Still, Google's online applications are more than serviceable. Cyber-snobs may turn up their noses but Google's apps offer a reasonably good--and free--alternative to Office. Even better, from a Google perspective, each new user means one extra wrinkle on Steve Ballmer's forehead.

Now tell me why I'm all wet.