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Facebook, the popular social networking website, has staked its claim as a rival to Yahoo, AOL and other internet portals by unveiling plans to allow outside companies to embed customised features in Facebook pages.

The move to incorporate such features, known as “widgets”, was announced on Thursday.

It marks a bid to turn Facebook into a portal through which companies such as Amazon, the online bookseller, and Digg, the news site, can gain access to Facebook’s millions of users.

The decision represents the firmest sign yet that Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s 23-year-old founder, plans to run it as an independent company rather than selling it to a bigger media group.

“We’ve already said that Facebook should remain independent, and this [move] strengthens that,” Mr Zuckerberg said.

Facebook last year was understood to have turned down a $1.5bn buy-out offer from Yahoo.

Facebook’s open approach is in contrast to the strategy adopted by MySpace, its main rival. MySpace, which was bought by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp for $580m in 2005, strictly controls the features embedded in its site.

“We’re not about owning the content, or owning all the applications that people are using,” said Mr Zuckerberg. Instead, Facebook will become a platform on which outside companies can build businesses catering to Facebook’s well-connected user-base, he said.

Facebook, which claims 24m active users, said 65 outside groups had developed 85 applications for use on Facebook.

A feature built by Amazon will allow Facebook users to write and display book reviews on their profile pages, for example. Users could then click on an image of a book to buy it on Amazon’s pages.

The company said it was looking into ways to share advertising revenue with developer partners.

It said it had no plans to ask for a cut any sales arising from other companies’ widgets.

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