Facebook Opens Up "a Significant Part" of its Platform
As we wrote last week (after initial reports came out on TechCrunch), Facebook is open sourcing what it calls "a significant part" of its Facebook Platform. What does a significant part mean? According to the company it means "most of the code that runs Facebook Platform plus implementations of many of the most-used methods and tags." Especially for many developers who want to build social applications, this looks like good news, but OStatic readers wrote in last week questioning whether Facebook is really going open source (see the comments in the link above). Is it?
In addition to the open sourcing of code and other tools (under the name fbOpen), Facebook is calling for developers to iteratively improve what it is releasing. The company has more information on this and how to do Facebook Open Platform downloads here, and there is a community forum here.
Specifically, Facebook officials say that they want to make it easier to build applications, "whether it’s by running your own test servers, building tools, or optimizing your applications on this technology." There are extensibility options made available, so developers can add their own tags and API methods. Facebook also says that it will release more code in the future.
The company sent some answers to questions:
"Facebook Open Platform contains most of the code used to run Facebook Platform, including the REST API, FBML parser, FQL parser, and FBJS sanitizer and proxy, along with implementations of many common tags and methods, and a few samples to help developers hit the ground running."
"Facebook Open Platform is licensed under the Common Public Attribution License (CPAL), except for the FBML parser which is licensed under the Mozilla Public License (MPL)." (This license "enables you to connect your brand to ours as you make modifications and updates.")
So is Facebook's move just a marketing gimmick to get more loyalty from the development community? While there may be a component of that, Facebook's really appears to more of an answer to OpenSocial, a common set of APIs for building social applications and migrating them across services. OpenSocial, let's not forget, is backed by Yahoo, MySpace and Google, so Facebook folks are watching it and the number of applications built with it closely.
In many ways, what we're seeing from the social networks is very much like what we saw in the early days of the personal computer industry--where the platform that attracts the most applications ends up winning. You can ask Microsoft about how that worked. So far, about 400,000 developers have created approximately 24,000 applications for Facebook--nothing to shake a stick at, but Facebook needs more.
Some of Facebook's platform is staying closed, and the company does have some self-serving motivations here. Nevertheless, both Open Social and Facebook's open platform will bring on more applications. That's good news.