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A More "Open" Facebook

Kim Hart

Facebook announced today that parts of its platform will become open-source, allowing outside developers to have more access to its technology -- and its users.

fbOpen, as it's called, squarely competes with the OpenSocial initiative led by Google, MySpace, Yahoo, hi5, LinkedIn, Friendster and a slew of other social media companies.

The idea is to give developers a "snapshot" of the technological infrastructure behind the site, let developers see how it is run and give suggestions for improvements -- and to also give programmers more tools to design better applications for users.

Last week Google held its I/O conference that attracted 3,000 developers to toss around new ideas for creating social applications. AOL also announced its support for OpenSocial last week.

I had a quick phone conversation with David Glazer, one of the directors on Google's OpenSocial team, last week during the conference. He said about 2,000 applications have been developed through the OpenSocial platform, which launched in November. One thing I specifically asked him about was privacy. If applications are shared across all these multiple platforms, how does each social network make sure the programs serve their users without putting their personal information at risk?

"Technology is never sufficient for insuring privacy," he said, adding that each social network develops their own policies to dictate how much personal data is available to application developers. "I think of OpenSocial as a community, and the fact that people are helping to define the specs and working with developers means there's an awful lot of sharing. That means (policies) are not technically mandated, but they need to have a lot in common."

Facebook's open-source platform isn't working with other partners at the moment. So far, Facebook has attracted more attention from the development community, so it has more applications -- about 24,000 -- to monitor.

Some developers I've talked to are moving into OpenSocial's platform after launching applications on Facebook. They've worked out the kinks on Facebook and perfected their programming before launching on MySpace or Bebo or hi5.

"The look and feel of MySpace is different," said Tim O'Shaughnessy, co-founder and CEO of Hungry Machine, based in Georgetown, which has made about 25 Facebook applications, including book and music recommendation apps. "The more robust the application is, the more you have to tailor it for each specific network."

Clearly Facebook has already won over lots of developers, but developers are always looking for the next big thing. Will Open keep them interested? Will they flock to OpenSocial? Maybe both. It will be interesting to see how the rival open-source-social-platforms duke it out.

By Kim Hart  |  June 2, 2008; 3:13 PM ET  | Category:  Kim Hart
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