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Facebook Opens Its 'Stream' to New Apps

Facebook API
Facebook continues to walk the walk the when it comes to opening up its platform.

The once famously insular social network has taken a number of steps to offer greater connectivity to other social networks. Today, it gave developers greater access to users' news streams.

Facebook began as a service limited to registered college students, but later opened up to the public at large and is now considered the the world's biggest social networking site, with over 200 million active users.

Today's release of a new Facebook Open Stream API for developers includes support for the Activity Streams standard, a project designed to give users greater control to read and interact with their streams.

Activity Streams is a collaborative effort started outside Facebook as an extension to the Atom feed format, aimed at expressing what people are doing around the Web. The standard effort grew out of the larger DiSo initiative, designed to help create open, non-proprietary and interoperable components of what its backers are promoting as a more decentralized social Web.

The enhancements to Facebook also make it easier to extend the site's features to other platforms, including mobile.

"Now, you'll be able to view your stream and publish information into it from places you never could before -- like your desktop computer or your mobile phone," Facebook said in a blog post today. "Your stream will appear just as it does on Facebook.com and maintain the same privacy settings. We believe that the ability to see more and more of what is happening around you will lead to greater openness and transparency."

The news comes at a time of challenges for Facebook, which backed off changes to its home page recently in the face of user complaints. The company also faces competition from longtime rival MySpace, which hired former Facebook exec Owen Van Natta as its CEO last week, and from Twitter, the fast-growing microblogging service.

Facebook opens up to new applications

Analyst Charlene Li said today's news shows Facebook is moving aggressively to open up its platform.

"You're now going to be able to create applications you couldn't do in Facebook already," Li, founder of digital strategy consulting firm Altimeter Group, told InternetNews.com. "What's exciting is the filters so it's not just a stream anymore -- you filter by photos, by other file types, by friends and other groups."

Li said we're likely to see new applications that analyze the information in unique ways. "A program might be able to look at who you respond to the most to figure out who your BFF ["Best Friend Forever"] is, for example," she said.

Li said Facebook is catching up with Twitter on the info stream front, but notes Twitter doesn't offer groups -- though she thinks it's something the service is likely to add.