updated 3/4/2004 3:45:57 PM ET 2004-03-04T20:45:57

America Online on Thursday launched ICQ Universe, a new Friendster-style service built on its ICQ instant messaging product, which promises to connect friends and show relationships between people.

As with other so-called social networking sites, including Google Inc. affiliate Orkut, membership in ICQ Universe is by invitation only.

Pioneering social networking companies like Friendster, Tribe and LinkedIn have reaped hard-to-get venture capital for their services that connect people for dating, employment and other activities.

The announcement from AOL, Time Warner Inc.’s online service company, comes as deals in the much-hyped social networking sector are taking shape.

To that end, InterActiveCorp., a conglomerate owned by media mogul Barry Diller, said on Monday it planned to buy business networking site ZeroDegrees. On the same day, Tribe Networks Inc. and job site CareerBuilder.com said they had teamed up to help Tribe’s members find work.

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