Facebook’s Open Platform Gamble

The recent Facebook rumors have come true — the social networking company is making much of its third-party application development platform open source. The company announced the change one year after it launched Facebook Platform.

“On the anniversary of our platform launch, we want to give back to the developer community. As Facebook Platform continues to mature, we’ve been hearing from a lot of you that you’d like more tools and better information on how Facebook Platform actually works,” noted Facebook’s Ami Vora on the Facebook Developers News blog.

“As a starting point, we’re open-sourcing a significant part of Facebook Platform, including most of the code that runs Facebook Platform, plus implementations of many of the most-used methods and tags,” Vora added.

Most of the code is now licensed under the Common Public Attribution License (CPAL), but some is licensed under the Mozilla Public License (MPL).

Rip-Roaring Success

Facebook took the open source announcement as an opportunity to release some numbers — in the last year, more than 400,000 developers have built more than 24,000 applications for the Facebook Platform.

“We see about 140 applications added to our directory per day, and nearly all of our users have added at least one application. It’s been humbling for us, and incredibly exciting,” Vora noted.

If Facebook’s application development program is so successful, why change it?

“They want more people developing Facebook applications. The assumption there is that the more applications that are out there, the more visits Facebook will get,” Michael Cot, an analyst for RedMonk, told LinuxInsider.

Cot said that being widely used is critical for both Facebook and for developers writing applications for Facebook because it gives them a greater opportunity to monetize their online efforts.

Key Developer Benefits

Consumer usage aside, how might developers actually benefit from Facebook’s open source code?

“It’s easier to use, re-deploy and debug,” Cot said. “Also, most developers nowadays, especially the ones that the Facebook Platform is targeting — Web developers — generally won’t give the time of day to anything but open source in the middleware world,” he added.

As for Facebook, the company said the latest open source moves are just a first step designed to help developers better understand Facebook Platform as a whole and more easily build applications or create test services, tools, or optimization apps.

“We’ve built in extensibility points, so you can add functionality to Facebook Open Platform like your own tags and API methods. We’re also hoping you use Facebook Open Platform in ways we’ve never thought of,” Vora noted.

Developers Aside

It’s widely believed that Facebook’s open source move is a direct response to Google’s OpenSocial initiative, which lets developers write applications for many social networks at the same time, including MySpace, LinkedIn, Friendster, Ning and others.

“All of those people [social networking sites] are battling for the most eyeballs now and their slice of the Web. It’s pretty much analogous to colonialism in terms of each of those players wanting to snatch up as many resources — users, eyeballs, etc. — as possible right now and then figure out monetizing them once those people are ensnared, along with all of their metadata, buying habits, and other activity online and offline that can be processed for cash,” Cot explained.

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