Allowing third-party programmers to build applications on top of social networking platforms is increasingly becoming table stakes for businesses that want to sustain themselves in a burgeoning market, according to experts who follow the space.
When Facebook opened its platform for outside development in May, it triggered speculation that other Internet companies would follow suit to reach broader audiences and increase site stickiness.
That speculation has reached a boil of late, with reports in the blogosphere that Google, MySpace and LinkedIn are considering opening up their platforms to allow developers to write free software programs that consumers can play with and share with others in their social networks.
Facebook opens its API for developers. Click here to read more.
Analysts indicated the practice is a smart strategic move that will keep the network from collapsing under the weight of dead-end boredom.
"One of the big problems social networks still have is that people sign up and you have 300 friends to contact on your social network and then you look around and say, Hmmmm, theres not a lot whole lot of things I can do on this social network," IDC analyst Karsten Weide told eWEEK.
Weide said by opening up their platforms to programmers, vendors such as Google, MySpace, LinkedIn and other social networks will grease the wheels for third-party developers to create free software that will keep users coming back to the site.
This creates a domino effect because users keep coming back, increasing traffic to the site and boosting the chance that a social network will sell advertising that consumers will see.
Forrester Research analyst Charlene Li said this is the magic that is driving Facebooks growth.
"There is a reason to go there," Li told eWEEK. "Maybe its about turning someone into a zombie or throwing food at someone, but it could also be about playing Scrabble, sharing book reviews or information about events that are coming up. It taps into the diversity of what friendships are about."
Applications created from social networks could evolve to collaborative environments where consumers do anything from compare movie tastes to work on projects online, such as editing PowerPoint presentations.
The latter scenario is a more likely case for users of LinkedIn, a social network tailored for professionals. LinkedIn CEO Dan Nye told the New York Times his company is interested in opening an API (application programming interface) for businesses that want to do some serious work in a collaborative environment.
"The real money is about some sort of viral marketing or business purpose," Li said. "The opportunity on LinkedIn is that it wont be social applications, it will be productivity and connectivity apps."
"Theres no reason why [these companies] could not integrate productivity applications or Web applications, where you could leverage the social network to get better search results, product reviews or news that is more custom-tailored to what you are interested in," Weide added.
MySpace mobile is targeting cell phones. Read about it here.
While Nye was candid about LinkedIns intentions, there is no clear idea of what roads Google and MySpace will travel to open up their platforms.
TechCrunchs Michael Arrington reported a planned bid by Google to "out open" Facebook through its Orkut platform, enabling the ability to pull Orkut data outside of Google and into third-party applications via the APIs.
However, Weide remains skeptical, noting that while Orkut is a leading platform in Brazil and India, it lacks the U.S. traction Facebook and others enjoy. Google did not respond to a query seeking comment.
Moreover, Weide noted that MySpaces demographic remains mainly kids. Fewer details are available about an open API for MySpace, and the company did not respond to a request for comment. But the popular Beverly Hills, Calif., business is celebrating the launch of its San Francisco office Oct. 17 at the Museum of Metropolitan Art.
Such an event would be a fine place for a major news announcement.
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