More than two years after Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) began promoting Wallop, its technology for social networking, the software company is spinning off the project to a new startup company.

Redmond-based Microsoft touted Wallop at a high-profile corporate event in late 2003. But the company has been secretive about the project since then, even as startups like Friendster and MySpace have gained major traction among users.

On Wednesday, Microsoft said it is spinning off the technology to a separate startup, Wallop Inc., to be based in Silicon Valley. A product, however, won't launch until later this year.

Microsoft remains mum on details, only promising that it will give people more sophisticated ways for helping people find one another and will let people interact more like they would in the real world. Current social networking services tend to link people online based on things like a similar taste in music or common acquaintances.

The technology was developed by Microsoft's research and development arm. The software maker plans to license and sell the Wallop technology in exchange for an equity stake in the Wallop company. It would not disclose more financial details of the transaction.

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