Microsoft plans to add new social networking features to its MSN Spaces blog publishing and hosting service.

The new social networking features are being tested by MSN Spaces users in Australia and the Netherlands, and are designed to foster user interaction, said Karin Muskopf, MSN product manager.

"We've heard from our customers they want to be able to see who their friends are talking to, because they feel those people would have similar interests to theirs. They want to be connected to people who are like-minded," she said.

Redmond wants some MySpace

She declined to comment specifically about social networking competitors, but News Corporation's MySpace has revolutionised this market with its eye-popping popularity. MySpace currently has more than 73 million registered users worldwide, and adds about 250,000 new ones every day.

MySpace's success hasn't gone unnoticed. Google now has an invitation-only social network called Orkut and Yahoo has a blogging service called Yahoo 360. AOL recently launched AOL Pages, a social networking service tied to its AIM instant messaging service.

Ironically, MSN Spaces may also end up competing with Wallop, a startup that is developing a social networking service with technology Microsoft spun off from its research unit. Wallop plans to launch its service this year.

Friendly gallery

MSN Spaces, launched in December 2004, has always allowed users to link to other blogs on the network. But the plan now is to make this easier to do and more attractive, by letting users add a section to their blogs where they can build a gallery of "friends" who also have MSN Spaces blogs.

While this functionality is now limited to a simple hyperlink, entries in this new gallery will contain much more information about the friends, even including notes and tags the user can add about them. The social networking features will also be integrated with Microsoft's instant message service.

The tests have been going well and Microsoft plans to extend the service to users in other countries in the coming months, Muskopf said.