Google has just announced its long-expected blast back at Facebook, whose social applications platform has taken off like wildfire since its debut in May. Google tonight outlined plans for a common set of standards that it promises will make it easy for software developers to write programs that run on a wide range of social networks, including Google’s own Orkut, hi5 Networks, LinkedIn, Ning, Friendster, and others, representing a total of 100 million people. and Oracle also are part of the initiative.

But not Facebook or MySpace, at least for now—as Ning founder Marc Andreessen told me, they don’t need to now, because developers are already writing programs just for them thanks to their large audiences. Photo slide shows, games, and musical taste sharing programs from companies such as Slide, RockYou, and iLike have attracted millions of people to install them in a matter of months. That has generated huge excitement in Silicon Valley, not least because Facebook is allowing them to make money from ads or other marketing promotions on those programs if they wish.

On Tuesday, Facebook also plans to announce an ad network that’s expected to enable advertisers to target precisely the people they want to reach based on their demographics and on the information on themselves that they type into their Facebook profiles. Google’s announcement comes just a week after it apparently lost a bid for a piece of Facebook to Microsoft.

The Google platform, called OpenSocial, potentially lets software developers create programs that will run on any social network that accepts the standards (though each site will have control over which programs, or widgets, will run on its real estate). Google’s Joe Kraus says it’s not just about making Google social, but “making the entire Web social.” “This is an open version of what Facebook has done,” says Andreessen. “This definitely poses a real challenge” to the prospect that Facebook would have the biggest platform for social programs on the Web. Developers can potentially reach even more people than on Facebook alone, and other social Web sites don’t have to persuade developers to write just for their sites, which they generally don’t have the resources to do.

The announcement was slated to go out Thursday night, but the New York Times broke the story, so Google moved up the release. More to come, but for now, there’s more detail at TechCrunch, which first reported it late last month.

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