The merry-go-round of big internet companies looking to buy a piece of Facebook is taking another turn, with Microsoft coming into view again – a Wall Street Journal report says it is seeking to invest up to $500m in the social networking site.

Yahoo, Google and Microsoft are all understood to have flirted with Facebook in the past year or so, but it has remained resolutely independent, and there is every chance its founder Mark Zuckerberg would rebuff Microsoft again.

However, there are increasing signs that Facebook’s competitors are seeking to loosen its grip on developers of social networking applications. Thousands of widgets such as iLike have been created as Facebook add-ins, for the millions of users that have been drawn to the platform.

According to Techcrunch’s Michael Arrington, Google is planning to come up with a major alternative. He says Google will announce a new set of hooks or APIs on November 5 that will allow developers to exploit the social connections of users of Google services such as the Orkut social network, Gmail and Google Talk.

Other reports say personal Google Calendars and RSS feeds from Google Reader could be tied into “activity streams” – similar to Facebook’s news feed – in a project codenamed Maka-Maka.

This could raise fresh privacy concerns, but it is more likely to be welcomed if, as Arrington states, it creates a more open system of sharing the “social graph” – the mapping of internet users and how they are related to one another.

At the moment, different social networks and applications cannot leverage one another easily to provide more useful data to their users.

Brad Fitzpatrick, formerly of the blogging company Six Apart and now with Google, blogged last month about how there was “a lot of hesitation in the developer/Web 2.0 community about being slaves to Facebook” (see Marc Canter’s open letter to Mr Zuckerberg last week).

OpenID, a common login now adopted by more than 5,000 sites, is one way forward and Mr Fitzpatrick says the goal should be to make the social graph a community asset with the help of open source software.

Back at Six Apart, the company announced last week it would be releasing code and demos soon showing how people will be able to find their friends across multiple social networks and make their data portable rather than locked into a particular site such as Facebook.

While Six Apart has been the most vocal and innovative company in pushing for Web 2.0 open standards, adding Google as a friend could have a major influence on their adoption.

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