Developers interested in working with Facebook Platform, the new third-party widget initiative from the fast-growing social networking site, gathered in several locations on Wednesday evening to hold inaugural Developer Meetups. The New York get-together, hosted by local entrepreneur Amit Gupta, was attended by somewhere between 80 and 90 people--mostly either developers who wanted to learn how they can use Facebook's offerings, or start-up entrepreneurs who had caught the "every Web 2.0 company needs a Facebook Platform app" bug.
Attendees knew that the event would feature a videoconference with Facebook's director of platform, Dave Morin, who was calling in from the San Francisco meetup. What they didn't know is that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg happened to be in New York for a family commitment and decided to drop by. The 23-year-old CEO was promptly bombarded with questions from the developers and enthusiasts in attendance, the majority of whom seemed to be of the opinion that Facebook Platform is a pretty big deal for the Web. (There were a few naysayers, all of whom took the perspective that small, limited applications embedded in Facebook profiles ultimately aren't that useful. Most of the other attendees were quick to point out exceptions.)
Speaking to the audience, Zuckerberg said that his company knew it was running the risk of ticking off its user base by opening the doors to developers. "That was obviously a really big risk," he said. "One thing that we've spent a lot of time on is just keeping the site clean"--it's famous, after all, for its simple blue-and-white interface.
"At the end of the day it comes down to efficiency for us," Zuckerberg added. "I just think that in the long run, there will be a set of really good applications" contributed to the site by outside developers, which will ultimately add to the user experience rather than detract from its efficiency. "It's slightly discontinuous, but I think it's probably worth it to get the diversity of applications."
And from the reactions in the crowd, as well as the statistics (a third of Facebook members have already installed Facebook Platform applications), it looks like people are willing to accept that discontinuity. One audience member pointed out that at Facebook's current growth rate--50 million projected by the end of 2007, and 100 million projected somewhere in mid-2008--it's approaching the population of a sizeable country, or at least, potentially, the face of "Web 3.0." After hesitating momentarily and looking rather surprised, Zuckerberg answered, "We've tried to create a new platform. I don't know if it's Web 3 or anything like that."
The last question came from an audience member who wanted to know when "version 2" of Facebook Platform would come out. Zuckerberg hinted that it might not be unveiled through a high-profile announcement like the original developer platform's launch several weeks ago.
"It'll be rolling," he said.