Google Inc. is setting up a distribution network for social networking applications, adding a new twist in the Internet search leader's brewing rivalry with rapidly maturing startup Facebook Inc.
Google hopes to build a one-stop shop for software developers who create tools that make it easier to share music, pictures, video and other personal interests on social networking sites like Facebook and News Corp.'s MySpace.com.
The popularity of these applications, also known as "widgets," has grown dramatically since Facebook opened its Web site to accommodate outside developers five months ago.
Facebook now hosts more than 8,000 widgets, helping to boost its worldwide audience to about 50 million users and elevate its market value to $15 billion after Microsoft Corp. paid $240 million for a 1.6 percent stake in the Palo Alto-based company last week.
Microsoft trumped Google in the bidding for a piece of Facebook. Google's bigger social networking ambition is believed to be one of the reasons Facebook decided to deepen its partnership with Microsoft instead.
Google now hopes to attract many of the same applications thriving on Facebook to its own network, dubbed "OpenSocial."
The system is set up so the participating software developers will only have to code their applications once. Google will then ensure they are compatible with all the Web sites in its network.
The early participants in OpenSocial include social networking destinations like LinkedIn, hi5.com, Friendster and Ning, as well as the Web sites of business software specialists Salesforce.com Inc. and Oracle Corp.
Google also will feature the applications on its own social network, Orkut, which hasn't attracted much traffic outside South America.
OpenSocial's combined audience will exceed 100 million users, according to Google.
The list of developers feeding applications to Google include three of Facebook's most popular Widget suppliers - Slide, RockYou and iLike.
Mountain View-based Google won't try to make money from the OpenSocial network right away but hasn't ruled out the possibility of eventually inserting ads into the applications.
"There is no question Google will benefit from this," Joe Kraus, a Google product manager, said in a Tuesday interview. "Google's role is highly intertwined with the Web, so anything that makes the Web a better experience tends to help Google."
While Google muscles into the social networking scene, Facebook appears to be gearing up to grab some of the advertising revenue that has been pouring into Google. Facebook is expected to discuss its plans for its own advertising network during a Nov. 6 event scheduled in New York.