Google Buys Consumer Electronics Comparison Engine Sparkbuy

Google has acquired Sparkbuy, a year-old Seattle startup that developed a comparison shopping service for consumer electronics products.

Sparkbuy's service allowed buyers to research products in just two categories, laptops and TV sets, but to perform detailed comparisons going beyond basic tech specs.

"We're thrilled that Sparkbuy will be joining Google," a Google spokeswoman said via e-mail. "They have built an impressive comparison shopping site that is simple in design yet powerful for consumers." She did not elaborate on whether or how the technology will be incorporated into Google offerings.

Sparkbuy's site will never leave the beta-testing phase it's been in since December; "We won't be offering services at sparkbuy.com any more," the company's founders wrote in a farewell message.

Google already operates a product comparison service, originally called Froogle and since renamed first Google Products and now Google Shopping. That service compares all kinds of products, including gadgets, gifts and clothing, by extracting data from automated feeds provided by online merchants. In the case of laptops, Google Shopping sticks to comparing simple specifications such as the screen resolution or the brand of processor.

Sparkbuy's three employees took a different approach with a more limited range of product comparisons, hiring a team of researchers to call laptop and TV manufacturers. That allowed the company to collect different types of information that had not previously been provided in a structured, consistent way, and synthesize it into ratings that potential buyers could compare. For example, Sparkbuy rated laptops for "speed" (calculated from the amount and type of memory, the hard drive speed and benchmarks for CPU and graphics performance), and for their suitability for running Adobe Photoshop, Microsoft Office or a handful of popular games, based on whether or not they met or exceeded the software vendors required or recommended minimum hardware configurations.

Google's acquisition of a potential competitor in the comparison shopping market will likely not please others, who have filed antitrust complaints against Google with the European Commission. Two comparison shopping sites, U.K.-based Foundem and the German company Ciao, now owned by Microsoft, were among the first to file complaints.

Peter Sayer covers open source software, European intellectual property legislation and general technology breaking news for IDG News Service. Send comments and news tips to Peter at peter_sayer@idg.com.

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