Will Copying Each Other Help Social Networks Win?

twinsSocial networks have been copying from one another for years, but the updates that Facebook, Twitter and Ning announced yesterday took such mimicry to new heights. At this point, however, dominance of the space ultimately depends on user base size. And from that perspective, Facebook, with its more than 220 million registered users, has already taken the crown.

In the meantime, here’s a rundown of the updates each site released:

— The social network now lets people tag friends in their status updates using the @ symbol, which closely resembles the “@ reply” function popular on Twitter (We predicted Facebook would make this move back in June.) The social network also said it was open sourcing Tornado, the web server framework that powers FriendFeed — essentially using FriendFeed’s technology to mimic Twitter. The release of the open-source web server framework is intended to enable developers to build applications that let users publish their status updates in real time.

— The micromessaging site modified its terms of service, including opening the door for advertisements on its platform. In doing so, it’s taking a page from Facebook’s playbook, since advertising is the current business model the social network uses. Twitter Co-Founder Biz Stone also wrote in a blog post that Twitter “is allowed to ‘use, copy, reproduce, process, adapt, modify, publish, transmit, display and distribute’ your tweets because that’s what we do.” Likewise, Facebook stores all user data in its servers, which has previously gotten the social network into trouble.

— The company, which lets people create their own social networks, launched an application platform for developers and subsequently released more than 90 apps on its network. The platform lets Ning’s network creators add apps to their sites. Though Facebook apps are aimed at users, Ning is adopting a feature that’s been a part of Facebook’s platform since 2007.