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Networking Site Based on Microsoft Research Technologies Launches

Wallop, a startup spun out of Microsoft Corp.'s research lab, is launching the test version of an online social networking site with the premise that people will want to pay extra to look good.

The company, which aims to compete with established brands like MySpace and Facebook, plans to sell graphics and other features people can use to decorate their personal profile pages.

Wallop says the plan to charge users for the decorations will supplant the advertising that supports many such free sites. The add-ons will initially cost somewhere between 99 cents and $4, said Karl Jacob, the San Francisco company's chief executive. The company will offer some elements for free.

People will only be able to sign up for the service if an existing member invites them, an approach Facebook is about to abandon.

Wallop has its origins in a Microsoft research project that goes back several years. In the interim, News Corp.'s MySpace has emerged as a market leader in the now-hot field of forging and maintaining friendships online.

MySpace already lets users customize pages for free, though users typically have to find HTML code elsewhere to post into their profiles. Some visitors have complained that flashy icons and colorful lettering in such customized profiles can make them difficult to read.

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