UPDATE 1-Facebook buys start-up Parakey for undisclosed sum

Thu Jul 19, 2007 10:19pm EDT

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By Eric Auchard

SAN FRANCISCO, July 19 (Reuters) - Facebook Inc., the fast growing Silicon Valley social networking site, said on Thursday it has acquired Internet start-up, Parakey, run by two of the co-creators of the popular Web browser, Mozilla Firefox.

Parakey, founded by Blake Ross and Joe Hewitt, is described in a statement as a company seeking to bridge the gap between the immediacy of information stored on local desktop computers and the collaborative power of data stored on Web sites.

A notice on Parakey's site says the company hopes to makes consumers lives easier: "Computers are frustrating. Creating documents, finding files, sharing information -- why do everyday things still seem so tedious and counterintuitive?"

Facebook was started in 2004 by then-undergraduate Mark Zuckerberg as a social site for fellow Harvard University students and was subsequently opened up to users of all ages. The site's appeal stems from the controls it gives users over who sees what personal details on each member's profile pages.

Hints of Parakey's product plans are available on the company's Web site and in occasional interviews the two have conducted over the past year. Details of their strategy point to potential new product directions that Facebook, one of Silicon Valley's most watched companies, could be taking.

Parakey and Facebook officials declined to be interviewed.

At age 14, Ross worked as an intern at pioneering Web browser company Netscape Communications Corp., according to his profile on Wikipedia. In 2003, he started as undergraduate student at Stanford, but left to work in Silicon Valley.

After helping to develop Firefox as a non-commercial variant of the Netscape browser, Ross, who is now 22, and Hewitt, 29, his collaborator, turned to creating Web development software such as Firebug, tools used by programmers to create new features for Internet sites, Facebook said.

Firefox has been downloaded more than 300 million times by computer users worldwide and is the second most widely used Web browser behind Microsoft Corp.'s Internet Explorer.

In an interview with engineering news site IEEE Spectrum last year, Ross described a plan to create what he called a WebOS, or Web operating system, a central place where different online resources might be found, similar to the way Microsoft Windows pulls together computer resources into one view.

He described creating a protected space inside a Web browser that allows users to store digital information and share it with designated friends, family and colleagues. In effect, the browser is designed to act as a social network space rather than simply a personal information viewing tool.

Parakey's founders see their browser operating system as a platform on which other applications could operate, similar in some respects to the way Firefox allows plug-in software from other developers to work inside it.

"Parakey apps (applications) are designed to be both useful and social, a combination that is too rare today," according to a job posting on the company's Web site seeking "Employee #3."

Their approach is very similar to how Facebook has recently moved to let hundreds of independent developers build software within the Facebook site, turning Facebook itself into a kind of operating system for Internet users.

"The work they've done with Firefox and Parakey and their approach to building products fit right in at Facebook," Zuckerberg, 23, Facebook's chief executive, said in a statement.

(Additional reporting by Gina Keating in Los Angeles)

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