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Wallop packs a social-networking beta

Invitation-only site to sell features such as interactive Flash graphics to polish up people's profile pages.

Social-networking Web site Wallop launched in beta on Tuesday, offering such features as paid interactive graphics to polish up a person's profile page.

Wallop, which started as a Microsoft research project four years ago and then was spun out as its own company, is the latest social networking site to debut. It will compete with such heavyweights as Friendster and MySpace.com.

Wallop operates as an invitation-only network and offers free profile customization that doesn't require a person to delve into HTML code. However, people can also pay for interactive graphics and features called "mods," created by Flash developers and designers.

With its revenue model based on the assumption that people will want to doll up their profiles, Wallop is forgoing advertising, including pop-up ads, on its site.

"After taking a long, hard look at social computing, it became clear that it is not simply about the technology, which has been limited and plagued with problems to date," Karl Jacob, Wallop's chief executive, said in a statement. "It?s about the trend of self-expression moving online."

Wallop also announced on Tuesday a $10 million second round of venture capital funding, led by Norwest Venture Partners. Previous investors Bay Partners and Consor Capital participated in the funding round as well.

Microsoft also holds an equity stake in Wallop, which came out of the software giant's IP Ventures Program and research department.

Wallop will show off its beta test version at this week's DemoFall '06 conference in San Diego.