Social Networking

Staring Down Google, Facebook Starts Its Own Clique

Back-to-back announcements — first from Facebook and then Bebo — have upped the ante in the social network application development game. Facebook, which launched its Facebook Platform for developers last May, will make its developer platform architecture available to other social networking sites as a model and through licensing deals.

Soon thereafter, Bebo announced the launch of its development platform, which it said was developed using Facebook Platform Standards.

“With Bebo’s implementation of Facebook’s open standards, developers can expand their reach, which will lead to even more application development, and ultimately benefit both Bebo users and Facebook users,” said Adam D’Angelo, chief technology officer for Facebook.

The two announcements come a little more than a month after Google announced its OpenSocial initiative, which would introduce a common set of standards to enable third-party software developers to create applications for member social networks. Several social networking sites, including Google’s Orkut, LinkedIn, hi5, Friendster, Plaxon, Ning and MySpace, signed up to take part in OpenSocial.

Bebo Apps

Bebo’s Open Application Platform allows third-party developers to create applications and integrate them into the Bebo site for use by its 40 million users. More than 40 developers have partnered with Bebo, which launched in 2005, to create applications ranging from music and movies to game-play and photo-sharing, the company said.

The British social networking site has also teamed with several major brands including the NBA, The Gap and Yahoo, which have already developed, or committed to developing, applications for the site.

At a launch event held in San Francisco, Birch reportedly said creating an application platform had long been planned. The launch of the Facebook Platform altered Bebo’s plans a bit because the company no longer saw a need to build an entirely new platform, which could launch the equivalent of a format war.

Instead, Bebo opted to use APIs (application programming interfaces) and markup language compatible with Facebook’s platform.

Hedging its bets a bit, Bebo also joined Google’s OpenSocial.

Not So Social

Google’s move to create an open standard for third-party application development could be viewed as a response to Facebook’s refusal to open its platform to competing social networks. It was also the search engine giant’s attempt to slow Facebook’s momentum, which ranks No. 2 among social networks. Google’s Orkut comes in a distant sixth.

The decision from Facebook to open the platform — with its 100,000 developers currently building applications — could put a kink in Google’s OpenSocial plans, compromising the ultimate viability of OpenSocial by making Facebook Platform the standard, said Greg Sterling, principal analyst at Sterling Market Intelligence.

“[Opening up its platform is] competitive versus Google, certainly. And in that regard, it’s quite shrewd,” he told TechNewsWorld. “It’s both a smart and a shrewd move for Facebook to open its platform to other sites, and it may, as a practical matter, stunt the growth potential of OpenSocial accordingly.”

Stymieing Google’s plans may not be a done deal for Facebook, however, said Andrew Frank, a Gartner analyst.

“Although Facebook has made clear it will open its platform, licensing terms are not defined in the announcement, which will be important in assessing how competitive this is with OpenSocial,” he told TechNewsWorld.

Competing Parties

Licensing aside, Google and its partners will continue to move ahead with the launch of OpenSocial, and social networks unwilling to license the Facebook Platform can still use it as a model for their own platform. Competition between the two standards is both a plus and a minus, Frank noted.

“There’s clearly a benefit in having competition spur the development of social platforms. The downside for developers will be fragmentation of standards and compatibility issues if competition overtakes developer community interests,” he added.

Developers should expect social networks to adopt both standards, Sterling and Frank agreed.

“[Other social networks will also support both platforms] probably. But [Facebook’s] platform is already a success, while OpenSocial is still embryonic,” Sterling stated.

“It depends on how important third-party developer support is to their business model,” Frank pointed out, adding, “I’d be very surprised if Bebo was the only social network to try [the Facebook Platform].

“Facebook’s platform architecture is in many ways much more of a heavyweight proposition than OpenSocial, in that it includes things like code to implement Facebook markup language tags (FMBL), as opposed to a relatively simple set of APIs to follow. This will result in different approaches and applications for both initiatives,” he concluded.

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