kickapps013108.pngKickApps, a company that let’s you create your own social network, is releasing a sweeping update today. It is trying to give you every feature of a large social network like Facebook, but in a way that you can build for your own community.

The update includes a new way to create widgets that display information from the site, a better set of analytical tools for watching your KickApps networks’ traffic, and an upgrade to its developer platform. New York-based KickApps is also introducing news feeds, easy ways to share audio and video, message boards and other group features.

The upgrade looks slick, from what I’ve seen, but the key question remains for KickApps, and other DIY social networks, like Ning: How many people prefer to use their services, versus popular sites like Myspace and Facebook?

One success story for KickApps is its deal with hip hop publication VIBE Magazine, where Kickapps provides social networking features integrated with the VIBE home site, as well as specialized VIBE KickApps-created sites for contests, such as a rap competition. VIBE gained more than 70,000 registered users and a million unique visitors during its first two rounds of contests, with more than 1000 user videos being uploaded, it said.

A rap competition site built for VIBE and Myspace (more here) generated an average of $20 CPM revenue for its banner ads, KickApps tells me, because the site’s niche audience was seeing ads that they cared about. KickApps makes money by selling ads on some parts of its users sites, or taking a cut of ads that site owners run, among other ways (company information here).

Maybe it is in a million of these small social networks that KickApps, Ning and others can find users and revenue.

The widget creator lets you make widgets that appear within KickApps sites or on other sites around the web, and show information from within KickApps networks. The company released a developer platform two weeks ago to allow developers to customize their KickApps sites. It has also adopted Google’s OpenSocial developer platform standards, so developers can easily add their Open Social applications to KickApps and other Open Social member networks.

The company has raised a total of $17 million in venture backing from Prism VentureWorks, Softbank Capital, Spark Capital and angel investor Jarl Mohn.

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