Monday, 11 June 2007

Facebook Opens Up

Facebook is currently taking the world by storm thanks to its usability, clean interface and new widgets. It's a much more manageable and practical version of Myspace with more gravitas and cross functionality.

In the last month Facebook has opened itself out to programmers from outside Facebook creating useful applications to work on the Facebook platform. Twitter,, Hotlist etc. are proving very popular if not necessarily massively useful... yet.

From A VC

"I've got two thoughts on this whole thing.

The first is I like the way Facebook has chosen to open up. It's more like the way Firefox allows extensions and less like the way MySpace and others allow embedded code. I've got nothing against the MySpace approach. That's what I use on my blog as well and embed code has moved the web forward in amazing fashion. But an open API is possibly going to be more powerful for some apps than embed code. It will be interesting to watch how this all plays out, but I am betting Facebook's gonna get some really cool apps very quickly with this approach.

The second is that I don't yet see my social network at Facebook interacting much in these applications. Maybe I've chosen the wrong ones to install. My Facebok social net will be notified via the mini-feed that I've added these apps to my profile, but beyond that what happens?

Why can't Twitter be more tightly integrated? Why can't it power my status message so that all my friends on Facbook see when I change my status via Twitter.

Why can't my Facebook friends engage with my and MOG widgets? Why can't they favorite the songs they like and message me in Facebook about that?

I am sure that's coming. Maybe some of the other Facebook apps already do stuff like that.

There's a chance that someday, Facebook will be the preferred place to read this blog because of all the social apps that will be built around it. You can already read this blog at Facebook but few people, if any, do that currently.

Mark Zuckerberg says he wants Facebook to be the social operating system of the web. That's a grand ambition. But I like it. Because its something Google isn't and is never going to be (unless they buy Facebook). At this point, nobody is closer to that vision than Facebook and by opening the system up this past week, Mark has taken a big step forward and is moving closer to that vision for sure. Well done."

It's also interesting to read Seth Godin's comments about the way the web is evolving from "the web" to "my web". Increasingly, as the amount of web content booms, people will start to explore their own personalised web world which may or not be explored via Facebook.

"The web has billions of pages. You'll see so few of them over your lifetime that the percentage is almost unmeasurable.

Your web, on the other hand, is well-traveled and familiar to you. It's the one you travel daily.

Facebook and sites like it are changing the world because they're becoming, for millions of people, "My web." Just as it's possible to do an entire day's work using nothing but email, it's now possible to live all day with your social network on Facebook. The new launch of open widgets makes that even more likely. I just discovered ztail, (which I haven't tested) which is an automatic process to let you create and then promote your auctions via your Facebook page.

It's not for every seller--it doesn't help you reach strangers, it doesn't help you teach people about who you are or what you do. But for those that are building their web around their social network, it's an inkling of what's to come. (hat tip to Fred for his insights on Facebook)."

Here's what Facebook have got to say about it on their blog:

"Last Friday, we promised more information, so here it is. We've purposely been keeping kind of quiet about Platform on the site in order to give all the new applications and functionality—on our side and on the developers' side—time to breathe and grow virally. Now that we've seen a week of activity, it's time to give you the full story on Platform and what it means for you.

When we made changes to the site back in April, we broke up the menus to differentiate between the applications people use on Facebook and the core of the site. Applications are things like Photos, Notes, Groups and Events. They live in the left hand menu and they use different parts of the core, which tend to live in the top menu—things like Facebook profiles and News Feed. But most importantly, applications use the real connections people have to help them share information more efficiently.

For example, the Facebook Photos application is actually the #1 most trafficked photo application on the entire web because it uses people's real connections—what we call the social graph—to help people efficiently share their photos. Facebook has this graph of increasingly powerful connections that people use to communicate.

We started working on Platform a little more than a year ago. Since then we've taken Platform out of beta, written FQL(Facebook Query Language), and various other tools for developers, and now we're ready for the next step. With this evolution of Facebook Platform, we've made it so that any developer can build the same applications that we can. And by that, we mean that they can integrate their application into Facebook—into the social graph—the same way that our applications like Photos and Notes are integrated.

You'll see applications integrating into Facebook in a lot of familiar ways. Applications can have a box on the profile. They may also have an item in the profile actions menu (below your profile picture). They can also have a link in the profile drop-down menu and put stories in Mini-Feed.

That's just profile integration though. Applications can also have a presence in the left hand menu, and that link can take you to whole pages that are generated within the Facebook site. These pages are in many ways the part of Platform that really enables developers to build full applications for Facebook. Applications can have anything they want on these home pages, and they can have as many pages like them as they want. It's not just a widget; it's a full application.

Since there will be a lot of applications, you will have the choice of adding and removing any applications you like. You can add new ones and even remove ours if you like. Wherever applications are displayed in some order, we try to let you reorder them. This means that you can reorder the boxes in your profile and the applications in your left hand menu in any way you want.

Maintaining the user experience is important, so we've made it so that you have to click to activate any flash object before it can start playing. This will prevent animations or videos or music from playing when a profile loads.

It's important to remember that simply seeing an application is not the same as interacting with it or granting it the ability to see your information. You will have to opt-in to any application in order for it to access your information or be put on your profile. Also, please note that we never sell your information or expose your contact information. You can manage your applications—ones you've added to your account, used on other sites or on your desktop—and use granular privacy controls for other applications in the "Applications" section of the Privacy page. If you see an application that you think is offensive or worrisome, you can report it, block it from ever interacting with your profile or information, or do both.

You can get a taste of how this all works by adding our Video application to your profile, or looking for an "add" link when you discover a new application on your friends' profile or within your News Feed.

Katie is Facebook's Director of Product."

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