Google has acquired startup Katango to improve and refine the Circles friend-grouping functionality in its new social networking site Google+.
Katango's software automatically sorts users' Facebook friends and iPhone contacts into groups, using an algorithm that analyzes a variety of data and online interactions.
Google wants to use the technology to improve Circles, which lets Google+ members segment their friends into different groups, so that they can share certain things with a set of family members and others with work colleagues, for example.
Katango, which launched its iPhone application in July and its Web application in August, was founded with the goal of automating this often tedious process of creating, editing and maintaining friend lists in social networks.
"In the earliest days of Google+, I alluded to the fact that we had big plans for Circles. Are you ready for some magic in your Circles? These folks are magicians!," wrote Google Vice President of Product Bradley Horowitz on his Google+ profile, confirming the acquisition.
It's not clear what will happen to the Katango applications, which ironically don't work with Google+. Google didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.
For now, the iPhone version of Katango seems to have been removed from the Apple App Store and the company's home page redirects to a brief announcement about the Google acquisition.
Still, Facebook has its own native feature for automated friend grouping, which it launched in mid-September, in response to the long-standing complaint that the tool to do this manually was cumbersome and seldom used.
The issue of slicing friend lists on social networks has become increasingly relevant as people accumulate hundreds and thousands of contacts, creating the need to be more granular when choosing what thoughts, links, videos and photos to share with whom.
Juan Carlos Perez covers search, social media, online advertising, e-commerce, web application development, enterprise cloud collaboration suites and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Juan on Twitter at @JuanCPerezIDG.