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Companies warned not to rush into social networking

Social networking could turn out to be a costly "white elephant" for businesses that hurry to invest in the technology, Gartner says.

Many companies are thinking about how they can take advantage of social-networking technology, but analysts at Gartner are warning against getting caught up in the hype.

Businesses are advised to consider certain issues before investing in or developing internal social-networking tools. These include protecting personal intellectual property, as well as people's preference for using existing nonprofessional, external networks such as Bebo, Facebook and

With Facebook saying it will license its developer platform to other organizations, it also could become even easier for companies to develop their own social networks.

But the Gartner report says the hype around social networking doesn't necessarily mean it's a mature enough technology to make it a critical business requirement.

There is also little evidence that social networking will be as beneficial for businesses as other Web-based communications technology, such as instant messaging.

Ultimately, Gartner suggests, the value of social-networking technology comes from content rather than the product itself. The analysts recommend that IT departments think very carefully before committing to expensive "social-networking white elephants."

Earlier this month, business networking site LinkedIn also said it will let third parties develop applications for its site and take LinkedIn content to other sites.

Tim Ferguson of reported from London.