Google ReCAPTCHA acquisition latest of many buyouts

Google ReCAPTCHA acquisition latest of many buyouts

In light of Google's buyout this week of Carnegie Mellon University spinoff ReCAPTCHA, it seems like a good time to take a spin back through Google's more notable buyouts over the years.

In light of Google's buyout this week of Carnegie Mellon University spinoff ReCAPTCHA, it seems like a good time to take a spin back through Google's more notable buyouts over the years. Wikipedia lists 55 of them, and given Google's sometimes mysterious ways, there are no doubt a few that didn't make the public list.

Oh, and I'll focus on the ones that really did happen. Not the rumors about Google buying out everyone from Twitter to Skype.

As for the ReCAPTCHA deal, it brings Google some cool authentication technology that it can use to accelerate its massive effort to scan tens of millions of books and periodicals. I wrote about this project from CMU's Luis von Ahn back in 2007 on Network World's Alpha Doggs blog, regarding an effort to use the technology in a SETI@home-like distributed computing fashion to help digitize books.  (More here on volunteer distributed computing projects)

"So we'll be applying the technology within Google not only to increase fraud and spam protection for Google products but also to improve our books and newspaper scanning process," reads a post in Google's official blog authored by Luis von Ahn, cofounder of reCAPTCHA, and Will Cathcart, a Google product manager.The ReCAPTCHA buyout is the second announced by Google this year. First was a $106 million purchase of video compression company On2, which could help Google more efficiently deliver video. That's a big deal for Google, of course, given that it owns YouTube through a $1.6 billion buyout in 2006.

Slideshow: Hottest tech M&A deals of 2009

On2 isn't the first company Google has bought in connection with YouTube either. For example, it snapped up a video editing technology company called Omnisio last year for an estimated $15 million.

Entering the wayback machine, Google's first public buyout was announced in February of 2001, about three years after the company started. Target No. 1 was's Usenet Discussion Service, including the domain names déjà.com and Now those domain names take you to Google Groups, where you can create and partake in online discussion groups.

Among the company's more interesting deals, which have expanded the company far beyond search, include 2003's buyout of Pyra Labs (Blogger's creator) and 2004's purchase of Keyhole, whose technology now powers Google Earth. In 2006, Google bought a company called Writely, a word processing software maker whose technology became the basis for Google Docs, which is now said to be used widely in 1 in 5 workplaces. Google says it bought Postini in 2007 to bolster security around offerings like Google Docs that it was looking to infiltrate businesses with.

While many of Google's buyouts have been relatively small, it has hit $1 billion a few times, including for a chunk of AOL and for online advertising company DoubleClick ($3.1 billion).

Many of Google's newer products have either emerged from the company's acquisitions or at least have benefited from them. Google Voice, for instance, is based on technology from Grand Central, which Google gobbled up in 2007 for $45 million.

Google Chrome, recently updated to version 3, has gained from Google buyouts of companies such as GreenBorder (security) and Skia (graphics).

Google is also greasing the skids for new companies that it may or may not buy, via its Google Ventures, which was launched earlier this year to invest in startups.

For more, visit our Google subnet, an independent Google community.

Juan Carlos Perez of IDG News Service contributed to this report.

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