rupturelogo.bmpShawn Fanning, founder of the popular music file sharing company Napster, is back in the game with a new start-up.

This time, Fanning wants to bring social networking to popular online games like World of Warcraft, as BusinessWeek first reported.

shawnfanning.bmpExperts say this is a promising area, because millions of gamers have formed communities with each other through playing, but their interactions have been limited by the confines of proprietary software. Why not open up these interactions to the full richness of the Web, let gamers flirt with each other, communicate offline or any number of other things?

Fanning’s new company start-up, Rupture, results from Fanning’s own frustration with WoW, which has 7.5 million players. The more he played, the more of a stake he had in the game, but the more he felt hampered in organizing game playing and learning about others’ identities.

He has raised seed money from investors including Ron Conway and Joi Ito. That makes sense because Conway has backed Fanning in his previous endeavors at Napster, and subsequently at SnoCap, a music store service that recently partnered with MySpace.

There are other services that extract character names, profiles and other data from WoW and other games. But few, if any, have sought to take it to the next level, personalizing it all in other ways. Rupture will create individual and guild rankings and facilitate playing and chat, starting with WoW, but pulling in information from other games, too, according to BusinessWeek.

There are several other stealth start-ups working on this, Susan Wu, venture capitalist at Charles River Ventures, says. She dismisses concerns that they may violate WoW’s terms of service. There’s tension, certainly. The walled garden has benefits — a rich and immersive storyline in a constrained but focused environment. However, players of WoW tend to spend time outside the game interacting with their “guildmates,” but have no easy way to do that. And there are thousands of plugins that have established precedence for how services get layered atop WoW, she points out.

Check out Allakhazam (plugin info here), for example, where you can view people’s WoW characters, guild rosters and quests. There are hosting providers that provide your guild with its own Web site, with ranking, communications, and management tools.

However, most of these other services are run by small grassroots contributors, have lacked a spectacular user experience, and there’s opportunity to offer a more cohesive and more comprehensive networking toolset, Wu says. Allakhazam’s focus on extracting user content (tips, maps, strategy, quests) has, perhaps incidentally, helped bridge communications between in- and out-of-game networks (forums are a bit part of Allakhazam). But social networking, i.e., building relationships, hasn’t driven its experience. That’s apparently what Rupture wants to do. Rupture will launch sometime in the first half of next year; for now, you can request more info at the site.

Below is a screenshot of a Modded Wow interface (with numerous plugins installed):

moddedwow.bmp