Monday, December 17, 2007

Hi-tech tools divide social sites

MySpace - 29 million
Facebook - 15 million
Friendster - 5.9 million
Orkut - 9.6 million
Bebo - 4.8 million
Source: ComScore July 2007

Social network sites are moving to make it much easier for software developers to write add-ons for the hugely popular web destinations.
Bebo, Facebook, Meebo and Friendster have unveiled plans to help them become more than places to keep in touch.

The add-ons will allow users to add extras, such as video and music clips, to the personal profiles they maintain.

The alliances behind the technologies also reveal the fierce competition between social sites for users.

Tough choices

In one of the broader announcements Bebo unveiled its Open Application platform which will produce a set of common interfaces that developers can use to create programs and applications that will work with the social network site.

At the launch Bebo unveiled partnerships with more than 40 developers, including NBC Universal, Flixster and Gap. A sample application produced using the tools allows Beboers to create an interactive avatar that models Gap clothes.

Significantly, Bebo's interface tools will work with Facebook's already announced development system. This will make it possible for the many developers who have written applications for Facebook to use their code almost unchanged for the Bebo network.

Despite the tie-up on tools, Bebo and Facebook will not become a unified network.

Bebo said it would also support Google's Open Social initiative which aims to create a unified system of tools that can be used on any and every social network site. The Open Social tools are due to appear in early 2008.

Social networking giant MySpace is backing Google's initiative.

In a further boost for Facebook instant messaging network Meebo announced its support for the tool set. Meebo said it had no plans to support Google's initiative.

At the same time Friendster announced that its development tools would be "open" so they can work on as many networks as possible. It has declared its support for Google's Open Social initiative.

Finally, Facebook has announced plans to license its development system to other sites. Since it was announced in May 2007 more than 7,000 applications have been written for Facebook.

This series of announcements shows how keenly contested this sector of the hi-tech market has become.

The deals and technological tie-ups are all about building up as large an audience as possible in a bid to dominate the sector.

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