At the Facebook f8 event on Thursday, the company unveiled a platform that lets third-party developers build and integrate applications for the second most popular social-networking site. Analysts said it will offer new revenue opportunities for participants.
Those dollar signs might have drawn some of the Facebook Platform's 65-plus developer partners, including Amazon.com, Microsoft, and box.net, that are creating more than 85 applications to kick off the concept.
One example application is called Video, which allows Facebook members to share personal videos with community friends. It also lets them create and send video messages directly to and from the Facebook Inbox.
"Until now, social networks have been closed platforms," Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told an audience of more than 750 developers and partners during his keynote address. "With this evolution of Facebook Platform, any developer worldwide can build full social applications on top of the social graph, inside of Facebook," he explained
The Social Graph
Developers can build anything they want in full, unlimited application pages on Facebook, called the "canvas pages," and applications also can have a box in users' profiles and navigation. Facebook users decide which applications to add and can control their order and appearance within their profiles.
Applications will gain distribution through what Zuckerberg called the "social graph," the network of real connections through which people communicate and share information. "The social graph is changing the way the world works," Zuckerberg said. "We are at a time in history when more information is available and people are more connected than they ever have been before, and the social graph is at the center of that."
As with existing applications on Facebook, new third-party applications will be able to notify users about relevant information through news feeds and profile minifeeds, helping to spur mass distribution. For example, a friend adding an application could lead to a notification in a user's news feed. Within profiles, applications will have an "add" button so any user can easily install the application.
Applications within profiles will remain free of advertising, but Facebook is allowing developers to make money within their canvas pages, through advertising or transactions that they control. Greg Sterling, principal analyst at Sterling Market Intelligence, called the Facebook Platform the anti-MySpace in that regard because MySpace does not allow people to monetize their pages.
"Just because developers build applications doesn't mean anybody is going to pick them up, but you are one step closer to a big audience than if you were just out on the broader Internet," said Sterling, who was at Facebook's f8 event on Thursday. "You can run banner inventory or other inventory and make money, too, but you are not necessarily going to get any traffic there."
Sterling likened the opportunity to a waiting room. Developers can build applications within Facebook, put ads in their space, and keep the money they generate. But the application has to be interesting enough to get Facebook members to adopt it. So the widget sits in a waiting room, waiting to be discovered. Facebook did not reveal how it would promote the widgets, but Sterling offered some ideas.
"You can imagine a huge directly of applications because there are going to be hundreds of people who build on top of the platform," he said. "You are potentially getting access to 40 million people. There is the potential for rapid expansion in the Facebook community. The question is who rises above the noise and gets discovered."