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Bloody chainsaws? Ning launches virtual gifts platform

The build-a-social-network platform lets site owners keep 50 percent of the revenue generated after PayPal's transaction fees are processed.

Are Web users going to get tired of paying for kitschy virtual items to pimp out each others' profiles? Social-site creator Ning sure doesn't think so. On Tuesday, it announced the debut of its virtual goods platform, so that network owners can offer virtual profile items for sale (much like Facebook does) and pull in half the revenue generated.

"From giving each other bloody chainsaws to shock troop dog tags, our members are having a blast recognizing each other for their contributions to the Lost Zombies Ning Network," said Scot Leach, founder of the "Lost Zombies" network on Ning, in a release provided by the company. "Creating custom gifts around our shared love of everything zombie adds a new level of fun and excitement for our members."

Some analysts have estimated that the virtual goods market will hit $1 billion this year.

Participating networks' members can buy the gifts for one another and they'll be displayed on the recipient's profiles. Payments are processed with PayPal, and then revenues are split 50-50 between Ning and the site owner after PayPal's transaction fees are taken into account. But while Ning site owners can design the gifts themselves, they won't be able to price them--all will cost 75 "credits," or approximately $1.50--something that might not go over so well with site owners who want to sell really expensive bloody chainsaws.

Ning, which says that a total of 1.6 million "networks" have been created with its technology and counts 36 million active users overall, launched a third-party applications platform last month.

The company was co-founded by Netscape creator Marc Andreessen, who justified a $60 million funding round last year by saying that the company was preparing for an economic "nuclear winter." Or maybe a zombie attack.

This post was expanded at 1:07 p.m. PDT.