Facebook April 27 confirmed that it was releasing Facebook Open Stream API, allowing designers to create new applications and widgets that utilize the continuous information "stream" that represents the heart of the social networking site's recent and somewhat controversial upgrade.
"With the Facebook Open Stream API, users will be able to use applications to read and interact with their stream," Ray He, a spokesperson for Facebook, wrote on the Facebook Developer Blog. "As a Facebook developer you'll also be able to access the posts you've published into the stream and display them in your application, whether it's on a mobile device, Web site or desktop."
Even before the official announcement, speculation abounded that Facebook was on the verge of opening the site's real-time data stream, which includes users' video, photo and text updates, in what could be construed as an attempt to steal some of the thunder from Twitter, which has managed to attract considerable buzz about its real-time updating model.
"To enable developers to access the stream, we've built the Facebook Open Stream API to include the emerging Activity Streams standard," He wrote. "In addition to the activity streams interface, the Open Stream API includes robust new APIs called stream.get and stream.publish and new FQL tables that enable you to directly access the stream."
With these tools, developers will be able to filter, remix and display the stream to users in new configurations.
Throughout 2009, Facebook has made a concerted effort to open itself further to developers, introducing new APIs for Facebook Platform in February that allowed access to content and methods of sharing Facebook Status, Notes, Links and Video. In addition, it launched a Comments Box social messaging widget in order to more fully integrate Facebook Connect into Web sites and blogs.
Also in February 2009, Facebook wrestled with enormous user backlash over its attempt to change the Terms of Service so that the social networking site would retain control over user information even after a user terminated his or her account. Facebook later retreated from the position.
Twitter and Facebook have generated a considerable amount of interest as millions of people join their networks. Although enterprises have found uses for both sites, with companies such as Salesforce.com blending them into their existing product lines and offerings, there remains debate as to whether social networking will remain useful and relevant to businesses in the long run.
The other question is monetization. Facebook runs ads on its site, but with the money already invested in the service speculated to run in the tens of millions, there may be greater internal pressure from the site's investors to find a way to turn its 200 million members into a revenue-generating machine.
For its own part, Twitter has already been exploring ways to monetize. In addition to sponsored sites such as ExecTweets, Twitter plans on rolling out sponsored accounts later in 2009.