SAN FRANCISCO — Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has a vision for his company’s social networking site: serving as the platform to enable applications to run almost anywhere their developers want.
Zuckerberg, who received a rock star welcome before speaking here at the f8 Facebook developers conference yesterday, outlined a plan for his company in which the actual Facebook site would become less important.
Instead, Facebook would become the engine for applications that cooperate and enable people to communicate anywhere on the Web, using devices ranging from PCs to mobile devices.
“The natural state of the world is for things to decentralize out a little more,” he said during his keynote. “At Facebook, we want to push this movement forward. It will be less about Facebook.com and more about the experiences we build together.”
Facebook has been making moves in this direction for some time, in May confirming plans to further open its platform so that third-party developers will be able to create applications using its source code that can run on other environments.
Those efforts, however, follow similar initiatives from rivals Google and MySpace. The two, along with Yahoo, Salesforce.com, LinkedIn and others, are participating in OpenSocial. Similar to Facebook’s platform aspirations, OpenSocial’s backers are creating a set of common APIs for building social applications on sites across the Web.
At the heart of Zuckerberg’s plan is Facebook Connect, a version of the Facebook platform announced in May and formally opened to developers yesterday.
Connect enables people to connect their Facebook identities, friends and privacy settings to other Web sites and applications. It also lets other Web publishers implement social networking features from Facebook.
Using Facebook Connect, when someone logs onto a site, for example to comment on a blog, they are immediately authenticated. More important, they can share their actions on that site with their friends on Facebook, so that the blog comment, a review or a rating would show up on their profiles.
However, Connect follows rivals’ efforts, debuting in the wake of MySpace’s own debuted its Data Availability program, which Google also followed by unveiling Friend Connect.
Simplicity may be one way Zuckerberg hopes to compete. “You can add Facebook Connect to any site with a line of code,” he told the audience. “Once they’re connected, people have access to all their identity components and connections — and the privacy controls are going with it.”
Facebook Connect became available to developers in a testing environment yesterday, and the company expects to roll it out to end users this fall.
Reining in troublesome apps
But Zuckerberg also highlighted efforts beyond widening the platform for Facebook’s social applications, acknowledging it be endangered by spam-like or misleading applications that grow through tactics like automatically propagating themselves through people’s networks.
[cob:Pull_Quote]”In the world we’re building, it becomes good for people to be good to each other,” he told the audience at his keynote. “Making the world more open and connected is more than any single organization can do, but we keep this in mind when we make important decisions.”
He added that Facebook has learned it needs to work more closely with developers to help them build apps that are useful and meaningful to users.
“We’ve learned we need to reward the applications that help people share and build meaningful relationships — and we haven’t done enough to punish the applications that have been abusive.” Now, the company wants to find a way to make sure that the apps that provide the most value are the most successful.
To that end, Facebook is launching two certification-style programs, Application Verification and Great Apps.
[cob:Special_Report]The verification program will assure users that applications are secure and “respectful.” Verified applications will get better positioning on Facebook. Developers also will be able to apply for the Great Apps selection process starting later this summer; criteria will include meeting the Facebook Platform guiding principles, a minimum of 10,000 users and a consistent track record of complying with platform policies.
Selected apps with be given greater visibility, likely leading to more usage, and will have early access to new Facebook functionality.
A redesign also eliminates the clutter of application boxes on
users’ profile, highlighting only members’ most frequently used applications. Under the old layout, installed applications were displayed as a box on the user’s profile, staying there even if the person never used it again.
Continued on Page 2: A wide vision, but revenue questions linger
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Following the change, users also can choose from different display options, and their friends also can publish items like photos and stories on a contact’s wall.
Zuckerberg received applause when he said Facebook also has gotten rid of annoying pop-ups that prompt a user to add an application when they were browsing it.
The redesign also eliminates the need for users to add applications just to see the content other users were generating with them. Now, you can see what your friends publish on any application they use.
At the same time, a revamped news feed system computes all the most interesting things happening in someone’s network that day and automatically displays them on their profiles.
A wide vision, but revenue questions linger
According to Zuckerberg, those efforts will better pave the way for a rapidly shifting world in which the big social networks decentralize into a series of social applications on the Web that can interact with each other.
The vision sounds similar to that of the Web 2.0 crowd, but that buzzword was never mentioned at f8. The social media ecosystem seems intent on developing separately and independently.
“We’re at the beginning of a movement and the beginning of an industry,” Zuckerberg added.
The new oversight for applications that Facebook is describing sounds somewhat like approaches in use by companies including Qualcomm or Salesforce.com. Qualcomm, the mobile applications provider, verifies and sells third-party applications directly to users as well as to network operators. Salesforce.com operates AppExchange, where end users can subscribe to applications that run on top of the basic service for an additional fee.
There’s one big difference in Facebook’s strategy, at least at this point. It’s free to use Facebook, and it would be free to use many of the third-party applications that run on top of it.
At the press conference, InternetNews.com asked Zuckerberg how Facebook would earn revenue in this decentralized world, and he gave the same answer Google executives give when asked about monetization of projects like Orkut.
“In the next few years,” he said, “we’re just going to focus on the value we provide … Figuring how we monetize is something we’ll work on, but it’s a second priority.”
He also said Facebook’s feed structure will become an important piece of this new ecosystem, which
will also continue to be used on the site.
“As time goes on,” he said, “we’ll see more rapid growth in terms of the number of apps built
outside of Facebook. That will add value for the core platform we’re building and for the feed
system we’re building.”
“The world is moving in this direction,” he added. “It’s not like we have a choice.”