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Tech firms spur software writing for social networks

Times Staff Writer

Facebook Inc. has inspired a revolution rocking the Web: Google Inc. and a group of like-minded tech companies are banding together to create a standard that makes it easier for software developers to write programs for social networks.

The high-tech players include some of the top social networks in the United States and abroad, including LinkedIn, Friendster, Plaxo, Ning and Google’s Orkut, as well as business software companies Oracle Corp. and Salesforce.com Inc.

The strategy, called OpenSocial, reflects the increasingly social nature of the Web that has turned social networks into prized Internet commodities. Instead of tasking only their own programmers with creating useful applications, Facebook and other companies are turning their social networks into platforms that anyone can improve.

OpenSocial has been rumored for weeks. Speculation intensified last week when Microsoft Corp. nosed out Google to invest $240 million in Facebook.

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Nearly 6,000 applications have been created for Facebook since May, when the social networking sensation welcomed software developers to try their hand at them. The programs range from the meaningful, such as creating social causes, to the frivolous, such as popping virtual zits. Some applications attracted millions of users in a matter of weeks, spurring excitement among developers who welcomed the chance to show off their programming chops and try to profit from them.

The applications thrive on the connections between people. That’s what Google and others hope to tap into. In just three years, social networks have attracted 400 million-plus users, said Joe Kraus, Google’s director of product management.

“As the Web goes, Google goes,” he said. “Social is the next frontier.”

Google’s long-term vision: Wherever you go on the Web, you can take your friends along, Kraus said. OpenSocial also could give Orkut, which is most popular in India and Brazil, a boost in the U.S.

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The OpenSocial platform may hold broad appeal for developers. The creators of some of Facebook’s most popular applications, such as iLike, Slide and RockYou, have signed up.

“Google is a technology company and they understand developers. That is going to give them a huge benefit,” said Blake Commagere, who created popular zombie and vampire games for Facebook. “And Google has reach.”

Google is solving a huge headache for developers by allowing them to write applications without having to radically customize them for each social network -- saving them time and money. If Google pulls this off, Commagere said, it may find itself back at the forefront of the revolution.

jessica.guynn@latimes.com


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