Facebook's Open-Source Dish with a Side of Attribution

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2008-06-04 Print this article Print

Will the CPAL attribution clause throw a wrench into Facebook's open-source plans?

Facebook's use of the Common Public Attribution License to open-source its platform is a controversial exercise designed to protect and extend the company's brand even as the social network extends the open-source olive branch to developers.

JBoss alum Bob Bickel, founder and CEO of RingSide Networks, which makes an open source "social" application server (dare we say JBoss for the social Web?) called Facebook's use of the CPAL open-source license a step in the right direction.

His caveat is that Web sites that use the Facebook Open Platform must credit the social network.

Based on the Mozilla Public License, CPAL was created by social enterprise wiki company Socialtext and approved by the Open Source Initiative last year.

Under CPAL rules, changes to files on the Facebook Open Platform get open-sourced as well so programmers don't get it in their heads that changes they make can be kept to themselves.

A Facebook spokesperson explained this for eWEEK: "The CPAL is not a strongly viral license -- only modifications to CPAL'd code (as in, the specific files that contain CPAL'd code) must be open-sourced, not the entire larger work. This means that you could use the Facebook Open Platform CPAL'd code as part of something else without having to open-source the whole thing."

Bickel applauded this clause but pointed the CPAL attribution requirement as a potential downside. The attribution call means a Facebook badge appears on all Web sites that use the platform, also known as fbOpen.

The badge reads: Attribution Copyright Notice: Copyright ??« 2006-2008 Facebook, Inc. Attribution Phrase (not exceeding 10 words): Based on Facebook Open Platform Attribution URL: http://developers.facebook.com/fbopen Graphic Image as provided in the Covered Code: http://developers.facebook.com/fbopen/image/logo.png

This is known as badgeware and some open-source experts don't feel CPAL has a place at OSI because of it. Mike Gunderloy of Ostatic called this a "poison pill" to prevent others from simply cloning Facebook on to their own sites.  

"This makes sense from a Facebook perspective because it helps them to build their brand in return for donating their software," Bickel wrote in a June 2 blog post after getting the facts straight with Facebook.

"On the other hand, if every open-source project required this, then there would be nothing on Web pages except logos - Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP, Tomcat, JBoss, Spring, Zimbra, Postgres, Lucene, MediaWiki, Firefox, etc., etc."

He further pondered whether MySpace folks are anxious enough to run the 24,000 Facebook Applications on its social network to put up a Facebook logo on their Web site.

This is a fair question and eWEEK supposes the answer is not over MySpace's dead profiles as it seeks to build out its own application platform. On the other hand, MySpace has told eWEEK it isn't concerned about Facebook's one-year app platform lead because there is plenty of social app pie for everyone.

Would Google want to dip into this? Hardly. When asked about Facebook's use of CPAL, Google provided a terse answer which practically screams its disdain for the license: "We think the Web is better open." Implying what? That Facebook with CPAL isn't.  

Remember all of those boring, foundational, Web 1.0 Web services standard wars between IBM-Microsoft and Oracle-Sun about who is really open and who isn't? (W3C versus OASIS?) History is repeating itself in this Web 2.0 zeitgeist of social networks.

With CPAL, Facebook can say its platform is open source, but there will still be companies out there that don't think it's fair or "open" that Facebook can require a badge or credit on any piece of software.

What Facebook's employment of CPAL is, is the company's answer to Google's OpenSocial and Friend Connect service, neither of which it endorses. Facebook now has an "open-source" shingle to hang its hat on, but Google will want none of it. There is too much unstaked online advertising territory yet (IDC says $51 billion by 2012) for these companies to get in bed too snugly.

Ultimately, Bickel said he and his company "remain undecided" as to how IT will embrace fbOpen.


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