Google has made four acquisitions this month (August 2010), spending at least USD 400 million. CEO Eric Schmidt earlier said the company plans to step up the tempo of takeovers, and this is the latest evidence of that.

Since the company was started, Google has swallowed over 70 companies. The company is buying not only services and technology, but also people (especially engineers), revenues and in some cases, established market positions. Big acquisitions have included YouTube (video sharing, USD 1.65 billion in 2006), DoubleClick (advertising, USD 3.1 billion in 2007), Postini (email tools, USD 625 million in 2007), AdMob (mobile advertising, USD 750 million in 2010) and ITA Software (flight information and software, USD 700 million, still to be completed). Most of the other transactions had a value of a few million or a few tens of millions, with the occasional exception up to USD 150 million. These include some well-known names such as Picasa and Android. A very rough estimate would put Google’s total acquisition spend over the past ten years at USD 8-9 billion. In comparison, Google’s market capitalization is currently USD 155 billion and its revenues in 2010 are estimated at USD 21 billion.

All together that’s a significant M&A post. Acquisitions are important for Google’s growth, which is facing a slowdown in the coming years. The takeovers also offer new areas of activity, without having to develop a service internally each time. Google could set up its own teams to develop specific services, but by acquiring such a team at a later stage, there is less risk. However, there is also a price for that strategy.

Looking at the most recent acquisitions, it’s clear many are related to the ‘social web’: Bazaar Labs, Zynga, Slide and Jambool. This is driving speculation that Google is preparing an attack on Facebook’s territory, under the name Google Me. On the one hand, this could be a difficult task for Google. Various attempts in the ‘social’ area have already fallen short of expectations (eg Wave, Buzz), and Facebook is already the de facto standard with more than 500 million users. On the other hand, Google now controls much of the relevant technology and the user-firendliness of Facebook still leaves a lot to be desired – for example, the Facebook ‘privacy settings’, which many users find difficult to understand and repeatedly lead to problems. Fred Wilson, a partner at Union Square Ventures, recently sneered that Facebook is nothing more than a photo-sharing website. It won’t be easier but Google has a big chance to do better than Facebook in social networking.