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Google acquires online poll company Polar

In a move that could shore up the dire shortage of opinions on the Internet, Google has acquired Polar, an online poll company. The deal was announced on Polar’s website and through Google’s social network, Google Plus.

To the frustration of analysts and journalists, Google announces lots of small acquisitions on Google Plus, instead of, say, a corporate website or news wire service. But the announcement there of Thursday’s deal actually makes sense, since Polar — whose polls ask such questions as “Win World Series? S.F. Giants/L.A. Dodgers” — will be part of Google Plus.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

In Silicon Valley parlance, the deal is an “acquihire,” meaning Google was most interested in employing Luke Wroblewski, Polar’s founder, and his team of engineers and designers.

Wroblewski is an evangelist of mobile design. Three years ago, he published a book called “Mobile First,” which “makes the case for why websites and applications should increasingly be designed for mobile first” and outlines ways for Web design teams to move from designing apps for desktops and laptops to designing them for mobile phones.

“I’m thrilled to welcome Luke Wroblewski and the talented Polar team to Google! They’ll be joining our team and helping us make G+ even more awesome,” Dave Besbris, Google’s vice president of engineering for Google Plus, said on his own Google Plus page.

Google Plus has struggled to gain traction with users, at least in comparison to Facebook.

But the network still has immense value to Google because it helps the company learn more about its users, which, in turn, helps the Internet giant to sell more ads and push more of its services. Still, despite frequent jokes about Google Plus being an online ghost town, loyal users say parts of it are thriving.

Polar has done polls for several media companies including HBO, TechCrunch and USA Today.

Now that it has been acquired by Google, the company will stop taking new customers and spend the next few months winding down its business to focus on new Google Plus projects.

—Conor Dougherty, The New York Times

UN peacekeepers released by captors in Syria

BEIRUT — Forty-five members of a U.N. peacekeeping force who had been held captive for two weeks by an affiliate of al-Qaida in southern Syria were released on Thursday in good condition, the U.N. said.

The Qaida affiliate, called the Nusra Front, said in a video posted online before the release that it had dropped its demands for a prisoner exchange and the delivery of humanitarian aid, and that it would instead release the soldiers without condition.

The capture of the peacekeepers, all of whom are from the Pacific island nation of Fiji, highlights the dangers that the Syrian civil war poses for international organizations that continue to operate in the region.

The Fijians were serving in the U.N. Disengagement Observer Force, which has been monitoring the demarcation line between Syria and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights since 1974.

Fighters from the Nusra Front captured them last month after a coalition of Syrian rebel forces seized a crossing point on the demarcation line, defeating Syrian government forces there.

The U.N. said Thursday that the Fijian peacekeepers had been returned to a U.N. base on the Syrian side of the demarcation line for medical assessments, and a spokesman for Israel’s military confirmed that the peacekeepers later crossed into an Israeli-controlled zone in the Golan Heights.

—Ben Hubbard, The New York Times