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Saturday, July 12, 2008, 01:05 pm PT (04:05 pm ET)

Best of the App Store: Social Networking

One of the most popular categories for software in the App Store, social networking lets users stay in contact no matter where they are. We pick a few favorites, including apps that let iPhone and iPod owners find nearby friends and upload photos as they're taken.

AIM

AOL's AIM (free) is one of the few instant messaging apps available on launch for the App Store and so becomes one of our top picks almost by default.

The software is relatively simple, but allows multiple ongoing chats and also takes advantage of the iPhone's camera: users can snap a photo for their buddy icon directly from the app.

Even so, AIM is missing any location-based features, and doesn't allow sending images to friends, either of which would be appreciated for new iPhone 3G owners.

Facebook

While Facebook has been lauded for its iPhone-specific web app, its native app (free) exploits the iPhone and iPod hardware for features that aren't practical on a web page.

It's now possible to upload photos directly to Facebook and to join text chats with other Facebook members (web or otherwise) using Facebook Chat. On iPhones, users can also look up friends who have made their phone numbers public to make a call.

Not all features translate over: Facebook apps are inaccessible, and members' Walls are currently unavailable despite their being available in the iPhone's web version. Facebook does, however, promise to update the app in coming weeks.

Kyte Producer

Photo uploading apps are already common on the App Store, but Kyte Producer (free) is rare for its ability to offer live interaction with others.

It requires an iPhone (the iPod touch is excluded) but lets users create live "channels" on Kyte that show users recent photos in real-time and also allows real-time chat with any other Kyte member tuned into the channel. More passive users can also watch other Kyte photo feeds.

Notably, though, Kyte's app doesn't support the live video the website has become well-known for — an omission that may be due to the lack of pre-supplied video recording support with the iPhone itself.

MySpace Mobile

Until now, MySpace members have never had an iPhone-oriented version of the social networking site; the alternatives were to either use the bare mobile page for simple WAP browsers or else to deal with the frequently cluttered full profile pages.

MySpace Mobile (free) is thankfully much less cluttered than the desktop site but allows most of the same comments, status, and other features, although it does conspicuously omit the blogging feature.

Like its rival at Facebook, MySpace integrates with an iPhone's camera to upload photos, though it lacks support for MySpace IM to compete against Facebook Chat.

Without Adobe Flash support or a suitable plugin, it also omits profile music — an omission that may be considered a blessing by some users.

ShoZu

The ultimate example of a photo uploading utility for the current App Store may be ShoZu (free).

Its most impressive feature may simply be the sheer number of photo sites and social networks it supports: the app will send images from an iPhone or iPod touch directly to very common sites like Flickr, Photobucket, and Picasa but also social networks like Facebook, blog systems such as Wordpress, and even news organizations like the BBC and Reuters.

It's also appreciated that many of these same sites also have support for many of their native features: it's possible to tag and comment on images as well as check or make status updates on Facebook and other similar pages.

Video is unsurprisingly not an option, but in our experience there's very little ShoZu lacks for those who can't wait to get home to upload their photos. It may well be our definitive pick among the 500 apps available for the App store's initial launch.

Twitterific

Twitterific (free) has been touted by Apple with the launch of the App Store, and not without good reason: it takes advantage of nearly every feature of the iPhone and iPod touch from the outset, and looks good while doing it.

The software is polished and permits virtually all the public and direct messaging features of the web version, but also a few device-native features. Both iPhones and iPods can mark when tweets have been made by nearby users, mark the user's own position, and upload photos.

One also doesn't have to leave Twitterific to visit a web link: a basic web browser is built into the app.

The only complaint so far is that scrolling is at times slightly jerky compared to other apps, suggesting that there may be some optimization needed. Those who detest built-in ads may also want to investigate Twitterific Premium, which for $10 eliminates the appearance of any ads at the top of the main Twitter feed.

TypePad

As the only full-scale blogging app on launch, TypePad (free) is almost a category of its own but is nonetheless notable for just how complete it is.

Users can not only make a full post but attach multiple photos (including those from an iPhone's camera) but crop those images and automatically set TypePad to update a Twitter account when the blog is updated.

We do wish location features were built in, but the ability to update a blog when on the road can't be underestimated; hopefully other blogging engines are given apps of their own in the near future.