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Cisco double drops with second social network buy

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Cisco tossed the market another curve ball over the weekend, when it swooped on Utah Street Networks, the San Francisco-based outfit behind soap dodger-friendly social network Tribe.net.

The deal has baffled many. The New York Times broke the "curious" story on Saturday. Tribe.net is not one of Cisco's "select" cuts which, without disclosing terms, the firm confimed it had bought this morning.

The Utah Street Networks seven-strong team's flagship Tribe.net product has seen its popularity wane as the social networking scene matures and consolidates. It's now mostly used by West Coast alternative types to arrange car shares for the Burning Man festival in the Nevada desert - not a target constituency for most advertisers.

Cisco isn't the first big boy to have a snatch at Tribe.net's undercarriage. NBC was reportedly close to a deal to buy Utah Street Networks technology in July last year, but never consummated the union.

Questions still abound as to what Cisco stands to gain from Utah Street Networks' platform. The booming IP networking banana republic already bought into social networking once this year with the acquistion of Five Across, which Cisco aims to use to provide CIOs at big business customers with proof they're still racing down the information super highway...or something. IBM is doing something similar with Lotusphere.

Once absorbed, both the Five Across and Utah software teams will report to Cisco Media Solutions Group chief Dan Scheinman, but the synergies between the two are far from clear. Social networking business watcher Pete Cashmore asks at Mashable: "Is Tribe’s tech even compatible with that of Five Across?"

One left field possibility is that the survivors of the Tribe.net bunch will focus on providing social networking infrastructure for Cisco's TV effort; the emphasis in today's announcement is towards "digital media content owners". Tacking social networking onto its Scientific-Atlanta set-top box business could send a lot of traffic over Cisco's routers and switches, in theory. ®

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