(Update: December 10, 2009: Stribe won top honors at this week's Le Web in Paris) It all started with sports. After running a semi-marathon a few years ago, Kamel Zeroual wanted to keep in touch with the community that had been created at the event. But there was nothing online, not even a Facebook page. “We said ‘OK, it’s a pity. We shared interests, spirit,’” Zeroual says of the lack of tools to reconnect the community that had participated in the race. So Zeroual created those tools. The result, Stribe, is the first French startup to be named finalist at TechCrunch50. “Getting selected for TechCrunch50 is like graduating from school,” CEO Zeroual says.

Stribe puts the social layer on websites. A single line of Java script turns your site into a social network, allowing users to create profiles, upload media and have conversations.

Zeroual envisions Stribe (“Stripe” + “Tribe”) as a tool for companies to keep users on their own site instead of using third-party services like Facebook fan pages to cultivate and communicate with their community.

“Now the conversation is safer for the brand,” Zeroual says, noting that Stribe would be an ideal service for managing product recalls, which companies need to share with their customers but do not want to blast to the world.

Having a social-networking layer on your site also helps companies or bloggers to know their customers and readers better, especially through user profiles and dialogue. Stribe is targeting four segments: corporate sites, blogs, casual gaming sites and e-commerce.

“Today you are influenced by all users, like talking to people in a store,” Zeroual says. “E-commerce sites have lost this conversation.”

Even with the amount of success companies have had with social networks, there’s still the fear of losing control of the brand. With Stribe, companies can have all the positives of social networks while retaining control.

As TechCrunch50 panelist Chamillionaire said in response to Stribe’s demo, “You’re not going somewhere else to find your fans; you’re bringing your fans to you.”

“The ownership is yours,” Zeroual says.

By Mark Alvarez