The buzz this week is that Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) is potentially taking an avatar-powered shot at making a statement in the booming field of social networking.

Now, before you bolt on over to Google with dreams of creating the virtual version of yourself, let's nip that cyberspace field trip in the bud. Your parents didn't sign the permission slip. It's all speculation at this point.

The rumored Google entry stems from a test program taking place at Arizona State University. Google Operating System, a Google-centric blog that has no ties to the search-engine rock star, unearthed the experience that is taking on currently enrolled students for an upcoming run.

Residing on the Arizona State University server as "My World," the initial questionnaire certainly seems to smell like Google.

"ASU has been uniquely chosen by a major Internet company to be a beta-tester school for a new product that will be publicly launched later this year," reads the questionnaire's introduction. One of the questions asks whether the student has an active Gmail account.

Reports out of Techcrunch and CNET's Webware also point the finger at Google as the likely experience provider.

The "do no evil" company is in bed with the Sun Devils. The two have been partners since last year, in migrating the school's campus to Google's Web-based applications. If you didn't know that, you can either see or read all about it.

However, the "My World" name is eating at me. Isn't there another "major Internet company" rolling out a product by the exact same name? Why, yes, there is. It's eBay (NASDAQ:EBAY).

Buy it now?
eBay's been trying to make its website stickier. It's been suffering from a slump in stateside auction listings, so it's trying to put a little fun back in the consumer-to-consumer marketplace.

eBay's "My World" is a social experiment on the website that aims to connect users with similar interests. It's more snapshot-based than the colorful avatars on the ASU signup page, but that's not my point here. Obviously, "My World" is a Google pilot. Why the heck is it using the same name that eBay is for its community-building initiative?

I realize that Google is a bit of a gunslinger. It shoots first and settles the naming confusion later. It actually didn't own the or domains before introducing either service. I should point out that neither company actually owns the domain.

So I'm hoping that "My World" is just a placeholder here for Google, not a sign that it's tipping its hand as to what the service will actually be called until it's good and ready to do so.

A world of opportunities
Going with the "My World" moniker for now has the blogs speculating on a Google Earth tie-in. Coupled with Google's acquired SketchUp 3-D modeling software, it's easy to drool over a community of interacting avatars as they stroll the satellite and street-level snapshots that make Google Earth such a cool time eater.

Google has been hinting at a major early November announcement. This may be part of that announcement.

However, with great technology comes great responsibility. My apologies to Spidey for lifting that phrase and bending it. Still, if the chatty experience really is based on the Google Earth backdrop, won't it hurt the credibility of Google Earth itself, for those who approach it as a serious discovery tool?

In short, I'm not reading too much into the "My World" name for several reasons. I see the finished product as a completely animated virtual community like Second Life, IAC/InterActiveCorp's (NASDAQ:IACI) Zwinky, or Viacom's (NYSE:VIA) Neopets. Finding a home within its Orkut social networking community is ultimately a more logical solution than turning Google Earth on its ear.

But hold on a sec. Does Google even want to be sticky? It sounds great in theory, but there's a downside to being virtual flypaper. Google's strength has been paid search, where most of the company's revenue comes from connecting visitors to sponsors. The moment a Google user clicks on a sponsored ad, leaving Google's site, it creates the sound of pocket change for Big G's oversized pockets.

Google is making serious inroads into display advertising and impression-based campaigns, but Google has never been the type to battle for raw page views. It's not how you win the game. Google is roughly five times the size of Yahoo! (NASDAQ:YHOO), despite generating fewer page views (according to

This is a new game for Google. It's going to be a tall order to convince its fan base into seeing Google in a new, playful light. Let's just hope it doesn't kill the company's credibility along the way, because too much is at stake.

If it fails, it can't just say that the Sun Devil made it do it.

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Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz is a huge fan of Google, and it would be his homepage if it weren't for taking up that piece of real estate. He does not own shares in any of the stocks in this story. Rick is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool has a disclosure policy.