“When Google developed OpenSocial, it was intended to obviate the need for developers to reprogram the same social networking applications for separate platforms, but not for long…”In a direct shot across the bow of Google Inc. and its OpenSocial project, Facebook Thursday announced plans to allow other social networks to license its technology so that Facebook applications can run on those sites.
Bebo, a social network that rivals MySpace and Facebook in terms of popularity in some parts of the world, announced that it will be the first social network to license Facebook’s standards so that developers can extend Facebook’s applications to Bebo.
“We will even license the Facebook Platform methods and tags to other platforms,” Facebook senior platform manager Ami Vora wrote in a blog post.
“Without question, the trend of opening APIs is gathering steam across social networks.”
In effect, this will enable developers to cross-pollinate their applications developed on the Facebook Platform on any sites that have adopted the Facebook standards with no additional effort.
Facebook’s announcement comes on the same day that Bebo, the popular British social networking site, announced the launch of its “Open Application Platform,” which will be compatible with both the Facebook Platform and OpenSocial.
“Bebo is the first social network to implement the Facebook Platform standards; it will adopt OpenSocial in 2008.”
Similar to Facebook’s announcement in May, the site is opening its API to third-party applications. More than forty developers, including NBC Universal, Yahoo and CBS, as well as perennial “widgeteers” Bantr, Jangl, Gaia Online, and Flixster, have partnered with the site to make their applications available to Bebo’s 40 million users.
“We are not doing this to compete with Facebook,” Bebo CEO and co-founder Michael Birch said at a launch event in San Francisco. “We are doing this to create a better experience for the user.”
Birch said Bebo’s site, which is particularly popular in Ireland, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom, attracts a young audience that wants more freedom of expression than Facebook’s core users.
“We are trying to take the great product and utility of Facebook and wrap that around the content and freedom of expression on MySpace,” he said.
Facebook has announced that the architecture for its developer platform will be made available to other social-networking sites, potentially rendering moot the criticism that its strategy is too “closed” -- and potentially dealing a huge blow to Google’s yet-to-launch OpenSocial initiative.
“We want to share the benefits of our work by enabling other social sites to use our platform architecture as a model,” Vora wrote.
The 10,000 developers currently building Facebook applications on the social networking site can now move them to other sites “with no extra work,” according to the Facebook developer page.
In the official wording from Facebook, the Palo Alto, Calif.-based social network is “making its platform architecture available as a model for other social sites,” and sees this as the natural evolution of a constantly changing product.
This announcement comes in the wake of three OpenSocial partners -- LinkedIn, Friendster, and Bebo -- all releasing their own developer platform initiatives independent of the Google-run program.
Facebook was noticeably absent among the companies that signed on in early November to Google’s OpenSocial project aimed at providing developers with APIs to create applications that would work on multiple social networks.
“With this announcement, developers can write an application once that will then be able to run on other social networking sites that have licensed Facebook’s APIs.”
“At Facebook, we have always recognized that social context is an essential part of providing a great experience for our users, and we have wanted our users to have the best social experience whether they were on our site or off,” the company noted Thursday on its developers blog.
“Of course, Facebook Platform will continue to evolve, but by enabling other social sites to use what we have learned, everyone wins -- users get a better experience around the Web, developers get access to new audiences and social sites get more applications.”
On Monday, LinkedIn announced that it would turn over a set of APIs and widgets to select partners and that those partners would, in turn, be able to build applications on LinkedIn’s site using OpenSocial.
Earlier this week, Friendster hopped on the trolley with the full launch of its own set of more than 180 APIs, also available through OpenSocial.
With the methods and tags of the Facebook Markup Language (FBML) now open for developers to use on Bebo, other social networks are expected to adopt the standards. After all, the Facebook Platform has been a great success. Facebook claims that 100,000 developers are creating applications on its platform and that 85 percent of Facebook’s members have used one of the applications.
But after the recent announcements, it is tempting to look at APIs and social networks as fertile ground for a battle between what are emerging as two competing standards: OpenSocial and the Facebook Platform.
“We have the same goal,” a Google spokesman said in a statement, alluding to both Google’s and Facebook’s stated objective to make the Web more open and social.
“Facebook can absolutely implement OpenSocial, and we hope they will.”
“We are glad to see Bebo take advantage of the work we have put into designing and building a complete, usable platform,” a statement from Facebook said of its would-be rival. “Having similar platforms across multiple social sites is good for everyone: developers get more reach for their applications, social sites get more people developing for their site, and users have better experiences no matter where they are on the Web.”
But the Facebook release also stressed that this is not any kind of special alliance. “No, this is not a collaboration or partnership with Bebo,” the statement reminded speculative readers. “A core Facebook principle is openness and access for everyone, so we have decided to enable any social sites to model their own platforms after Facebook Platform.”
The initial launch of Facebook’s developer platform in May sparked a frenzy of developer activity and interest in third-party contributions to social networks.
However, OpenSocial was late to the party since thousands of applications had already been developed for Facebook before Google’s solution was even announced, let alone implemented on any substantial number of social networks. (It is still not ready for prime time).
But others are waiting until the code has proven itself stable -- and that has meant that OpenSocial is still largely a concept, not a concrete phenomenon.
Facebook could use a move toward “openness,” too. In addition to “walled garden” criticism, Facebook’s image as the darling of Silicon Valley took a tumble with its controversial Beacon advertising program and shady allegations about CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s past.
Blogger Richard McManus noted that while Bebo has also committed to use Google’s OpenSocial, the move to use Facebook’s APIs marks a win for the latter over Google, whose “OpenSocial is looking increasingly like a marketing ploy with little substance. That may change as we learn more about how OpenSocial is being deployed by the likes of MySpace. But thus far, Facebook continues to ramp up its developer platform -- and Bebo’s support is a big win for them.”
It is likely that this new move will make Facebook look friendlier. “This is just another step toward the vision of easy, open sharing of information,” Vora continued in the announcement. “We look forward to supporting other social sites as they release their own platforms, and look forward most of all to the added benefit for developers and users.”