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Is Facebook Ready to Show Us What's Under the Hood?

By Jason Z. Cohen
May 27, 2008 9:49 AM PT

Facebook has come up with a new plan to fight off its competitors: open sourcing its application platform.

Is Facebook Ready to Show Us What's Under the Hood?

Citing multiple sources, TechCrunch reports that Facebook is planning to form an open source community around its application programming interface, which it launched just a year ago.

We can expect that the four pillars of Facebook's platform -- Facebook markup language (FBML), Facebook query language (FQL), the Facebook JavaScript library (FJS) and the Facebook API -- will be made available to the developer community at large, according to TechCrunch.

Port This App

This move would make applications developed for Facebook more easily portable to platforms such as MySpace, Bebo or whatever.

The competitive landscape is forcing Facebook to be nimble. Google's new effort, OpenSocial, represents a major threat, because it brings together a bunch of competing social networking sites -- including MySpace and Yahoo -- and gives them a unified platform for developing applications.

Google's Friend Connect, which Facebook recently -- and unwisely -- blocked, also allows some social functions to be embedded in non-social-networking Web sites, such as a musician's fan page.

Challengers Lining Up

Bebo, recently bought by AOL, already uses a version of Facebook's API to port applications built for Facebook to its own platform. That soc-net, which is pretty popular in the UK, is set for a renaissance as AOL mashes it up with other properties it owns to create a more powerful experience.

In fact, AOL might have the Holy Grail of social networking in its hands, because it's also got the advertising structure in place to make a run at monetizing this thing -- and that's something even Facebook has had trouble doing.

Give Facebook credit for this: Whether or not its moves are well-received, it keeps trying new things, and it's been pretty open about its innovative processes, throwing ideas against the wall to see what sticks. Some of it, like Beacon, slides to the floor in a heap, but some of the better stuff gets incorporated into the ecosystem.

Buzzword Alert

The creation of the API itself, in retrospect, was a move the buzzword barons would describe as "disruptive," but in this case the term isn't far off. It changed the rules of the game and put Facebook into a leadership position.

I've given it grief before for being too much like its major benefactor, Microsoft, but in this case, Facebook appears to be learning from its big brother's mistakes.

Microsoft rightly saw the open source community as a threat and responded with FUD, accomplishing little more than to further alienate an influential segment of the market.

Facebook has seen openness used as a weapon against it and appears ready to neutralize the threat by being open itself. Good move.

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