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A virtual backyard for dogs joins a roster of niche social networking sites. It is designed as a way for pet owners to bond.

September 21, 2008|Michael Felberbaum | Associated Press

RICHMOND, VA. — Cici confesses on her Web page that she likes to greet everyone by licking their feet. Dolce admits being a mama's boy. And Jake and Tycho posted a video that chronicles their adventures of rolling around on their backs.

It's not on Facebook or MySpace, but the canine equivalent --

A crossbreed of MySpace and YouTube, Doggyspace allows dog owners from all over the world to create profiles and share photos and videos of their pups.

The Virginia-based site is part of a growing trend of niche, or content-focused, social networking sites that target interest groups looking to connect with like-minded people. San Francisco's Dogster is another example.

"It's not so much social networking, it's having a social experience around things that we care about, so pets are just such a great example of that," said Fred Stutzman, an Internet researcher at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Stutzman said many people are using more general social networking sites but also signing up for sites like Doggyspace that offer a more focused experience that can provide help and support on specific issues and go beyond traditional message boards.

"Social networks like Facebook and MySpace are sort of about you and your friends and these very direct connections, but there's all sorts of other types of connections," Stutzman said.

Since launching in mid-July, Doggyspace has logged more than 700 registered, active user profiles -- 73% of them created by females, said Levi Thornton, founder of the site and president of Web development firm Mad Frog Productions in Fredericksburg, Va.

He projects that Doggyspace will have more than 2 million accounts by the end of the year.

"There's a lot of people out there with their dogs and we're busy and we're all working in the office all day long and this is a way for us to bring our pets with us," said Thornton, who has a Yorkie named Nokie and a pit bull named Ein.

Standard accounts for the site are free, but later this year Doggyspace plans to offer premium accounts for a small fee that will give users extra features.

Thornton, 30, said the site is a place for pet owners to share stories or learn about a specific breed. It can also help people form friendships based on a love of dogs, or connect people interested in finding a play date for their dog.

Connie Mandrozos found the site while searching for information for her 12-year-old golden retriever, Boomer, who has cancer. She received an outpouring of support from other dog owners with similar experiences and some told her they "have their paws crossed" for Boomer.

Mandrozos, 36, ended up spending more time on the site, creating profiles for Boomer as well as his "sisters" -- a pit bull mix named Darla and another mixed breed named Violet.

"It's been a goofy thing to do at the end of the day when you get home from work and you just want to talk to somebody in your dog's voice and say, 'Hey, how was your day? Woof,' " said Mandrozos, who lives in Bridgeport, Conn., and sometimes uses her dogs in her job as a behaviorist.

Most of the Doggyspace profiles include messages from other doggy "friends."

One profile is for a chocolate Labrador retriever named Guinness, who said her mom "couldn't resist naming me after her favorite beverage."

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