At this point, it's almost embarrassing to be a Web company that hasn't been courted by Google.
Not a week goes by when news doesn't surface regarding Google's trolling the waters of Silicon Valley for a new acquisition; Friday's discussion surrounded daily-deals site Groupon. And for every big fish contemplating the Google bait, there are tons of smaller ones that don't get as much attention but are potentially just as important to Google's overall strategy.
At this point in its history, it's simply easier for Google to let outside firms nurture promising ideas and markets in order to snap them up before they become a threat. So where might it look next? Here's a sampling of some likely bets.
Foursquare: Although it would be somewhat embarrassing to buy essentially the same company twice, Google has renewed its commitment to building out its location-aware services by overseeing that activity. Google has Latitude, but Foursquare has more buzz among the public and is striking deals with merchants.
With, Foursquare would allow Google to add recognizable check-in features to Google Maps and make its local search and local advertising that much more compelling. It's just going to cost more than it would have to simply have built out Dodgeball years ago.
Qwiki: Winner of the start-up contest at the last TechCrunch Disrupt, Qwiki blends searches for information with entertainment, presenting curated answers to queries with a series of pictures, videos, maps, and other content: 10 blue links need not apply. Google's generally not a fan of curated search results, but it could probably find ways to use the methods Qwiki employs to return visual search results which of late.
Qwiki would fall into the cheap category as well: with about 10 employees and seed investors that have also either put money into or worked at Google and YouTube, according to a company press release.
Quora: Are question-and-answer sites the next frontier in search? That's far from clear, but there's definitely momentum behind the concept, as on algorithmic search to focus on linking questions and answers.
Google has taken tentative steps in this direction but Quora would jump-start those efforts. The site has drawn interest from social-network early adopters intrigued by the quality of the questions and answers contributed to the site, and its founders--ex-Facebook employees--would allow Google to pull a reverse by bringing those with Facebook ties over to Google, as opposed to the usual story.
Jive Software: Google has said its evolving social-media strategy is to , rather than build out the next Facebook. Jive, which makes Web tools for businesses to add social-media services both internally among employees and externally with customers, might be a good fit for Google Apps.
Famed Valley investment firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers has taken a stake in Jive, and the company currently has 3,000 customers, according to a KPCB release announcing its investment in Jive in October. As Google tries to build enterprise support for Google Apps, giving its customers a social hook might help close a few deals.