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Breaking Down The Social Networking Walls

A recent study of Americans between the ages of 13 and 42 found that 62 percent have accounts on both Facebook and MySpace, and most don't plan on giving up one site for the other any time soon.

The study was commissioned by Fuser, the Web communications aggregator that launched to the public last June, with the stated mission to simplify people's digital lives. With a new social networking widget, Fuser believes it's doing just that.

In February, Fuser made a splash when it released a Facebook application that allows people to send and receive MySpace messages within their Facebook profile.

Last week, MySpace moved its developer platform into the public testing phase, and Fuser's application to communicate with Facebook friends was one of the first 200 released. So now, through Fuser, the elemental social applications of MySpace and Facebook work together.

"The interoperable social Web seems like the logical, elegant destination of the Web 2.0 movement, with its emphasis on mashups and user-generated content," Eric Wu, Fuser's director of product management, told InternetNews.com.

Fuser launched primarily as an e-mail aggregator, offering a Web-based in-box where people can register and check all of their accounts. Support for e-mail includes Gmail, Yahoo, Microsoft Exchange, AOL, Hotmail and SquirrelMail, as well as services based on POP3 protocols.

At present, the social network applications only connect MySpace with Facebook, but Wu said Fuser is looking to include more of a person's communications, such as the e-mail accounts the Fuser.com application supports. With Facebook rumored to be launching an instant-messaging service, Wu said that would likely be supported by the Fuser application as well.

In addition to the support for Facebook and MySpace, Fuser is planning to add a Twitter tie-in by the end of the month.

By positioning itself as the locus of a person's social interactions on the Web, the tone of Fuser's mission sounds similar to Yahoo's goal of becoming the crossroads of the social Web with a smarter, open in-box that can detect and analyze relationships across the social graph.

Broadly speaking, a more unified Web rid of the barriers that keep certain activities walled off from others can be found in the mission statements of initiatives such as OpenSocial for interoperability among social platforms, and OpenID, a coalition working to create a common identifier for all Web accounts.

Fuser does not currently support OpenID, but Wu said that the company is "actively evaluating" the standard and that he expects Fuser will adopt it "in the near future."

"We're in favor of any type of service or product that allows users to manage their data and communications any way they see fit," he said.

In addition to finding that many young people want to maintain a presence on both of the major social networks, Fuser's study also offered some insights into the demographic breakdown between MySpace and Facebook.

MySpace, the larger but slower growing of the two, continues to enjoy greater popularity among high school students.

The split is more even among college students, with the two sites nearly even in terms of market share, according to the survey.

Sixty-five percent of overall users identified Facebook as their favorite social networking service, however, indicating its strong popularity among older users.

Facebook also wins in terms of engagement, with the study finding that 71 percent of users spend at least three hours each week on the site, compared with the 45 percent of MySpace users who said they spend that much time on the site each week.

Finally, for anyone still wondering how important widgets are to the social networking experience, the study provides an answer: 93 percent of respondents with Facebook accounts have added applications to their profiles.