Kevin Rose’s Road to Google

Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

Kevin Rose, from Digger to Googler.

Kevin Rose likes four-letter words, and he’s about to learn a new one: GOOG.

The search giant is hiring Rose, whose social media endeavors have included founding crowd-source news site Digg; Milk, which made the now-defunct Oink app; and Revision3, an online video network that is affectionately called Rev3.

While none of those companies have become an Internet powerhouse on par with Google, Rose has been an important figure in the rise of social media. That might explain why Rose caught the attention of Google, which has finally made social networking a priority.

Google’s hiring of Rose, which was reported earlier by All Things Digital, could help bolster Google+, said Altimeter Group analyst Jeremiah Owyang.

“It’s important to have the company focused when the imminent threat of Facebook is at hand,” Owyang said. ”The product is not fully baked. That’s why they need people who can understand the technologies.”

Rose’s career has been both sweet and thorny over the last few years. An infamous magazine cover of BusinessWeek, before Bloomberg acquired it, showed a baby-faced Rose wearing headphones and a backwards cap while giving a thumbs up. The headline: “How This Kid Made $60 Million In 18 Months.” Both he and BusinessWeek were chided in the blogosphere for the cover. Still, he and Digg were riding high.

But Digg became an also-ran. An attempt at reinventing the service led by Rose, which aimed to provide personalized news results instead of a homepage ranked by users, failed. The Diggnation show maintained its giant audience (by episodic-Web-video standards) until the final episode aired in December.

Yesterday, Milk put a bullet through Oink’s snout in anticipation of the Google tie-up. That brings us to Rose and his role at Google. Google’s social networking initiatives, which together are called Google+, could use some work, and Rose may be the guy to help.

News that Rose and his team from Milk were hired had a few of us in the Bloomberg newsrooms comparing it to Google’s doomed experiment with Max Levchin when the search giant bought his social-media company, Slide. Levchin later left and Slide was shut down. Google and Rose may have more in common, since Digg and Oink involve cataloging and organizing links and reviews, which aligns nicely with Google’s stated mission of organizing the world’s information, Owyang said.

“What I’m looking at is Kevin’s track record and his connection to the industry and also the following that he has among the tech community,” he said. “He could be an asset because he could draw an audience.”

As the former co-host of a popular Internet TV show on Rev3 called Diggnation, Rose brings some pseudo-celebrity to Google’s ranks, which lacks visible executives. Google CEO Larry Page rarely does interviews, and his toe-shoe-wearing co-founder, Sergey Brin, has been coming out of his research lab less frequently these days.

On his Facebook, Twitter and Google+ profiles, Rose gives glimpses into his glamorous lifestyle. He posted a Twitter message yesterday saying he was attending his first board meeting at the Tony Hawk Foundation.

His persona could attract fans to Google’s social orbit, but Rose will have to bring more than a million of his Twitter followers to the new gig.

(Updates with confirmation that Google also hired the team from Milk.)

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