Google tip-toed into the hot market of online social networks with the quiet launch of Orkut.com on Thursday, CNET News.com has learned.

The search company, which is expected to go public this year, is flexing its power with its Internet fans by constantly offering new services, including comparison shopping and news search. Orkut could be the clearest signal that Google's aspirations don't end with search.

"Orkut is an online trusted community Web site designed for friends. The main goal of our service is to make the social life of yourself and your friends more active and stimulating," according to the Web site, which states that the service is "in affiliation with Google."

[CNET News.com]

This is, of course, interesting news, but there are a few other tidbits in the article that you probably all knew already, but were news to me.  Like Google asks that their engineers to spend one day a week (!) working on personal projects (and then they own the technology developed by their employees). Or that Google has an outstanding offer for Friendster (rumor has it.)

And now I'm off to day-dream (or more likely, dream-dream) about what I'd spend my one day a week working on...