Facebook Confirms Open Source Plans

Facebook today confirmed that it is preparing to further open its platform so that third-party developers will be able to create applications using its source code that will run on other environments.

Facebook’s move toward open source follows a flurry of announcements from Web companies — itself included — talking up openness initiatives that would break down the walls between different sites on the social Web.

Earlier this month, MySpace came out with its Data Availability program, Facebook countered with Connect, and Google followed by unveiling Friend Connect.

In a broad sense, each of these was designed to enable people to carry their identities beyond the boundaries of the sites, and it has created a race among the Web giants to prove who can be the most open and interoperable.

“We’re working on an open source initiative that is meant to help application developers better understand Facebook Platform and more easily build applications, whether it’s by running their own test servers, building tools or optimizing their applications,” the company said this afternoon in a statement.

“As Facebook Platform continues to mature, open sourcing the infrastructure behind it is a natural step so developers can build richer social applications and share what they’ve learned with the ecosystem. Additional details will be released soon,” the statement added.

Facebook just celebrated the first anniversary of its developer platform, which is widely credited for the company’s surging popularity that has narrowed the gap with rival social network MySpace. Applications built on the Facebook Platform now number more than 20,000, ranging from interactive ABC News features to the wildly popular hatching egg app.

For its part, MySpace followed suit with its own platform, announced in February and opened in full in March.

Facebook’s open source move, which of course would be limited to its developer platform, not the overall architecture of the site, would be seen as a response to OpenSocial, the open source standards initiative that Google founded and then spun off into a nonprofit group with MySpace and Yahoo. Most of the other big social networks such as LinkedIn and Orkut support OpenSocial.

Bebo, the social network recently acquired by AOL, supports applications built on the Facebook platform, but for all the lip service it has paid to openness, Facebook is generally perceived as the more proprietary of the two big social camps.

Facebook has released the source code of several components of its site, including its Firefox toolbar and Thrift, which it describes as a “framework for cross-language services development.”

A move to open source would mean that Facebook would make available the source code behind the main technical pillars of its developer platform: the Facebook API, Facebook Markup Language (FBML), Facebook Query Language (FQL) and Facebook Javascript (FBJS).

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