After watching Web developers build 24,000 applications through the Facebook Platform since its opening in May 2007, the social network decided to build upon this rapid increase by releasing the platform code June 2 under an open-source license.
In the effort, dubbed Facebook Open Platform (or fbOpen in the code), Facebook is open-sourcing most of the code that runs Facebook Platform. This includes the REST API, FBML parser, FQL parser, and FBJS sanitizer and proxy, along with implementations of many of the popular coding methods and tags.
The move follows the OpenSocial initiative by Google, MySpace and others to release open-source APIs that let programmers build hooks into any participating Web site.
Many industry watchers expected Google's corresponding Friend Connect service, an effort to let users add their personal profile information to public Web sites that Facebook banned, would pressure Facebook to open-source its platform.
However, a Facebook spokesperson told eWEEK that opening the code base has been part of the company's plan since the platform was opened to programmers in 2007.
"We wanted to do it after our platform had reached a certain level of maturity and we had done our due diligence to release something that was 1) of value to our developers and 2) secure," the spokesperson said.
Facebook also said it believes open-sourcing its tools will give programmers more tools and insight into how the popular platform works so that developers can more easily build applications that will enhance the platform. Developers can exchange code snippets in Facebook forums.
Facebook plays nice to stay ahead
With 140 applications added to the Facebook directory per day, programmers don't seem to be losing interest in writing programs for the platform to make it more social and engaging for users.
Most of fbOpen is licensed under CPAL (the Common Public Attribution License), which Facebook said in a blog post recognizes Web services as a major way of distributing software and lets programmers connect their brands to Facebook as they make modifications. The FBML parser is licensed under the MPL (Mozilla Public License).
Facebook programmers will no doubt love the move, which is sure to be eyed carefully by social network experts and pundits critical and skeptical of Facebook's willingness to play nice with others.
Facebook in May drew Google's ire by shutting out the Friend Connect service. Facebook claimed it was for security reasons, but industry watchers say they believe Facebook is simply wary of perceived competition.
Google doesn't lay claim to a social network, but experts say the OpenSocial effort it has fostered with more than 20 Internet companies, including Yahoo, MySpace and AOL, threatens Facebook's desired dominance of the social network landscape.
The reason is that while no vendor has successfully found the key to making money from advertising on social networks, the company that does will grab the fast track to dominating that niche of an Internet advertising market that IDC predicts will double from $25.5 billion in 2007 to $51.1 billion in 2012.
As a company that has worked hard to cement its status as a significant technology platform on the Internet, despite MySpace's significantly higher number of users, Facebook wants to be that market leader. Google, meanwhile, recognizes social ads as another revenue stream for its broad ad strategy.