Behind the Facebook Developer Platform

 
 
By Darryl K. Taft  |  Posted 2007-09-10 Email Print this article Print
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Opinion: Facebook's CTO tells eWEEK what developers need to know about the Facebook Platform.

PALO ALTO, Calif.—The first and main thing I wanted to learn on my visit to Facebook headquarters here was how the social networking juggernaut was going to take on the enterprise. It seemed the company had the consumer segment licked and was inevitably headed for the enterprise before bigger, more established competitors stepped in. But Adam DAngelo, the companys chief technology officer, assured me that although the enterprise is a possible target for Facebook, it is not something the company is putting much effort into right now.
"Were really purely focused on the consumer right now," he said.
This came as a bit of a surprise, as so many people at enterprise companies seem to talk about Facebook with a mix of envy and awe when they discuss the social networking phenomenon and what theyd like their companies to do. The second thing I was interested in was the inner workings of the Facebook Platform, which the company launched in May in front of some 800 developers at the San Francisco Design Center. What I was interested in and what I found so refreshing in talking with DAngelo is the companys outlook on its platform for developers and competition. "Were fine with it if developers that build on top of Facebook Platform compete with our own applications," DAngelo said.
Moreover, he said, "We think its really important to level the playing field because if developers think that were going to decide that their application is too valuable and not let it compete with ours, then theyre not going to want to develop in the first place." Thats refreshing, and totally in tune with the times and the thrust of development efforts today that have witnessed the influence of open source. Click here to read more about Facebook opening up to developers. And while Facebook is reportedly cooking up a new advertising system focusing on consumers, the organization itself is, if not focusing on the enterprise, gaining enterprise-worthy experience and scale. "Everything we do is at pretty big scale," DAngelo said. "We have 30 million users and were growing at about 3 percent a week. So that means that all the code you develop has to be highly scalable. Every new feature we launch or everything we do has to be able to scale to support our 30 million users." DAngelo further noted that "one of the reasons why startups and small companies can develop code so quickly is they dont have to worry about scalability problems because they only have a small number of users." At its May 24 Facebook f8 event, the company launched the Facebook Platform with 65 partners and 85 applications. Now there are more than 3,000 applications on Facebook. Jeremy Burton, CEO of Serena Software, which on Sept. 10 is launching its own mashup platform for developers, said he took a page from the Facebook playbook. "If we werent going to do this [develop an enterprise mashup platform for developers], somebody else would," Burton said. "Because you see it in the consumer world—I mean 3,000 apps on Facebook within three months. … Look at it, there are 3,000 applications on Facebook and Facebook doesnt crash every night and the photos dont get compromised every night. Why? Because they thought about exposing functionality through interfaces." To help with all those applications and all the developers writing them, Facebook is shaping up its developer program, DAngelo said. The company also has held Facebook Developer Garage events where developers discuss developing on the platform. My friend Dion Almaer, a Google developer and co-founder of Ajaxian.com, attended one last month in Palo Alto and said, "There was a great crowd gathered [no surprise] and there was definite energy about the place. The kind of energy that says, Man, I think I can make some money having a lot of fun." Another friend, Salil Deshpande, also has attended Facebook Garage events and has a particular interest. Deshpande is a partner at Bay Partners, a Silicon Valley venture capital firm that in July launched its AppFactory, a program for funding entrepreneurs writing applications for Facebook Platform. "Bay Partners is targeting tens of investments of $25,000 to $250,000 using a flexible, fast-track approval process," said the companys press release on the subject. Meanwhile, DAngelo said in an interview that companies dont need to partner with Facebook to create applications on the platform. Facebook has partnered with a variety of companies. Among others, Facebook has partnered with Microsoft to integrate with Microsoft Popfly, the company said. Microsofts Popfly is a Web-based tool that gives Facebook users the power to create applications and add them to their profiles with no programming at all. For instance, users can create and embed mashups of Web sites directly in their profiles, a Facebook press release said. In an interview with eWEEK, DAngelo discussed a broad variety of things, including offline access for Facebook, his role as CTO, and his advice to developers looking to develop on Facebook. And the Facebook developer community continues to grow, with the platform and its potential attracting everything from everyday application developers to superstar developers like Google Vice President Adam Bosworth, who proclaimed on his own Facebook page that he is building a Facebook application. The "star" appeal is not lost on the Facebook headquarters in downtown Palo Alto. As I exited the building, a trio of college-age folks were posing in front of the rather small lettering of the Facebook logo—the only thing that identified the building as Facebook property. They were posing as they might in front of a favorite rock stars or actors home. "I cant believe it, Facebook headquarters!" one of the young women exclaimed, genuinely impressed. She looked to me as if for a comment, but I just shrugged. A Facebook developer that had walked out with me smiled a knowing smile as if that scene is repeated several times a day. Meanwhile, Id driven down to Palo Alto from San Francisco, and knowing my ride back into the early rush hour traffic was likely to be thick, I wanted some music to groove to. Thanks to the Facebook CTO, I had my mind set on the troubled, but multi-talented, neo-soul artist simply known as DAngelo. And as I didnt have my iPod with me, I drove around until I found a record store and bought a copy of DAngelos first CD, "Brown Sugar." I drove back up 101 alternately singing, clapping and bobbing my head, feeling good about having met Mr. DAngelo and about being re-acquainted with a DAngelo I hadnt heard from in a while. Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, reviews and analysis in programming environments and developer tools.
 
 
 
 
Darryl K. Taft covers the development tools and developer-related issues beat from his office in Baltimore. He has more than 10 years of experience in the business and is always looking for the next scoop. Taft is a member of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) and was named 'one of the most active middleware reporters in the world' by The Middleware Co. He also has his own card in the 'Who's Who in Enterprise Java' deck.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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