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Imeem dials into social networking craze

Software maker's new product lets users create desktop-secured private or semi-private communities.

There's a new kid on the block in the social networking, blogging, photo sharing and instant-message industry.

Imeem is set to publicly release on Monday software that lets people communicate and share photos with each other in private or semi-private communities.

Imeem enters a crowded market that includes search giant Yahoo's 360 blogging and social-networking service and the popular MySpace.com, recently acquired by News Corp., among others.

Imeem, whose name comes from the word "meme," aims to differentiate itself by giving users an easy way to specify exactly who they want to share information with and by providing technology that enforces that access control on the desktop, instead of on a server at the provider company.

Users can decide to share their profiles, blogs, photos and instant messages with friends, friends of friends, everyone on the imeem network or everyone on the Web, depending on the application. The search engine returns results only for the areas the searcher is authorized to enter.

Advertisements from Google appear on the bottom of some pages and sponsored links from Amazon.com appear down the side of pages.

A challenge for the company will be enticing users to switch to imeem when many people already have a network of friends in a different service.

Imeem Chief Executive Dalton Caldwell, one of two former Stanford University students who founded the company, said he expects many people will initially want to use imeem in addition to other services, particularly when they have photos and information they want to limit access to for copyright or privacy reasons.

"We're trying to solve a different problem," he said. Imeem will appeal to people "who want to share thoughts, blogs and photos with a small group of family or friends."

The imeem software can be downloaded for free from www.imeem.com.