Orkut Calling All Programmers. . .

Google’s Orkut, one of the world’s largest social media Web sites now will allow its population to use third-party applications for games, music and other plug-in programs. Following Facebook’s lead, the new offering most likely will boost the fast-rising site’s world popularity.

Amar Gahdhi, Orkut group product manager, announced the move on his blog Monday, saying the company expects to raise its online population up to more than 50 million users in the next few weeks.

Google will accept applications from social media until Feb. 15 and unveil those chosen in late February. Google also will hold an “Orkut Hackathon” on Thursday and Friday at its Mountain View, Calif., headquarters.

Orkut was launched in January 2004 as a response to social media kingpin MySpace and burgeoning college social media Web site Facebook. Since then, MySpace has taken about 80 percent of the U.S. social media site while Facebook, which was the first to open its computer platform to developers last spring, now has 10 percent of the demographic.

Orkut, by contrast, has less than 1 percent of the U.S. market, but has exploded in other countries. In Brazil, where 50 percent of traffic goes to Orkut. Nearly 17 percent of the social media market in India also uses the social media program. Asia and Latin American users also are becoming Orkut hotshots.

Allowing third-party applications will continue this trend, said Chris Johnson, founder of Tempe-based programing company Terralever LLC. Terralever was the first programming firm allowed to develop applications for Facebook.

In the U.S., however, Orkut probably will remain behind the MySpace and Facebook behemoths, Johnson said.

“Orkut has such a small U.S. market base that I don’t think it’ll get much traction,” he said. “But it is one of the largest sites in the world, so that’s where you’ll see growth.”

Terralever does not have plans to develop applications for Orkut, although Johnson and thousands of others are waiting for what will be the Holy Grail of social media application development. Within moths, MySpace is expected to announce that users will be able to use applications that already have been submitted to the company.

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