Google Inc.'s $1.65 billion acquisition of Internet video site YouTube Inc. has turned up the pressure on rivals to keep pace in a rapidly changing online environment. Finding a perfect substitute for YouTube may be impossible.

Only a handful of Internet start-ups come close to matching the San Bruno, Calif., firm's audience. But many smaller Web firms--often referred to as Web 2.0 companies because they were founded after the dot-com boom - offer growing communities of users and popular Web sites that Yahoo Inc., Microsoft Corp. and News Corp. may choose to nurture.

"I think, in general, there are large technology and media companies that will buy their way in" to some of these upstart companies, said Alex Welch, chief executive of photo-sharing site Photobucket Inc. of Denver.

Welch said Photobucket is not "officially for sale," but "it is possible for a company to be acquired in this space."

Should an Internet arms race begin, it will likely be fought over online audiences. Building a large Web following is hard to do, and many of the big public Internet companies will seek to buy what they have had trouble creating: new-generation social-networking sites with large followings of users who spend time posting videos or creating their own Web pages. For example, Google's interest in YouTube was likely sparked by the failure of its own video site - Google Video.

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