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Social site Bebo opens up to outside developers

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Bebo, the largest social network in the U.K., launched an open technology platform for outside software developers on Wednesday, signing up 40 partners to provide applications for users on the site.

The homepage of Bebo in a screengrab taken December 12, 2007. Bebo, the largest social network in the U.K., launched an open technology platform on Wednesday for outside software developers, signing on 40 partners to provide applications for users on the site. REUTERS/

The Open Application Platform will be fully compatible with the thousands of applications that have helped fuel growth at social network Facebook, as well as a newer platform called OpenSocial launched by Google Inc in October.

The applications invite users to play games and share music or video with their friends on a social network. The most widely used applications, which expand as friends on a site invite new pals to join, have become a closely-watched new channel for advertising revenue.

“This makes it very, very easy to take the applications they have developed for the Facebook platform and import them to the Bebo platform,” Ziv Navoth, Bebo’s vice president of marketing, told Reuters in an interview.

In a potential counter-move to both Bebo and Google, Facebook said in a blog post to developers on Wednesday it would license its technology platform to other social networks as a model.

The step means that developers currently building Facebook applications “can make their applications available on other social sites with no extra work,” Facebook said.

Bebo’s partners include some of Facebook’s most popular application developers, such as iLike and Slide, as well as developers from major media companies such as General Electric Co’s NBC Universal and advertisers such as clothing chain The Gap.

Bebo joined Google to support its OpenSocial platform, but had also been developing its own open technology over the past six months. The site has more than 40 million users worldwide.

Navoth said Bebo launched its own platform to serve as an immediate bridge between its site and Facebook, rather than wait for Facebook developers to tailor their programs to the Google model.

“At the end of the day, it comes back to the developers,” he said. “If you want the developers to innovate and introduce creative applications for your users, you have to think of what’s easiest for them.”

MySpace, the world’s largest social network site owned by News Corp, is also a partner of Google’s OpenSocial network.

The spread of open technology platforms for developers can benefit social networks in the short term by helping boost their membership. But it will also make it harder for a social network to distinguish itself from competitors once they carry the same applications.

“The general public perception is all social networks were created equal ... it’s simply a question of who you signed up with first, or where most of your friends are,” said Navoth. “For each social network to be successful in the future, it will have to be very clear what experience it offers its users.”

Reporting by Michele Gershberg, editing by Leslie Gevirtz and Andre Grenon