Bebo unveils new application platform, touts Facebook compatibility

Instead of launching yet another platform, the youth-oriented social-networking site has opted to make its applications compatible with Facebook's platform.

Caroline McCarthy Former Staff writer, CNET News
Caroline McCarthy, a CNET News staff writer, is a downtown Manhattanite happily addicted to social-media tools and restaurant blogs. Her pre-CNET resume includes interning at an IT security firm and brewing cappuccinos.
Caroline McCarthy
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This post was updated at 10:18 a.m. PST to add information about Bebo's plans for OpenSocial.

SAN FRANCISCO--When Bebo co-founder and CEO Michael Birch took the stage in a theater at the Metreon complex here to announce the social network's Open Application Platform, he made the eyebrow-raising claim that the new initiative was, "dare I say it, 100 percent compatible with the Facebook platform."

Bebo representatives had hinted at Facebook compatibility last month when the social network officially joined Google's OpenSocial initiative. The new platform officially goes live on Wednesday night. "There's a little bit of a land grab with social networks," Birch said on Wednesday morning, acknowledging that Bebo, which was founded in 2005, was late to the game.

Creating an application platform, he explained, had been part of Bebo's strategy for quite some time, but then Facebook launched its heavily hyped developer strategy--and that changed the landscape for Bebo. "That kind of changed our course a little bit because we don't want to launch another platform," Birch said. "It just becomes like a format war." Consequently, Bebo's platform uses compatible APIs and markup language so that Facebook applications can be easily converted.

When OpenSocial (which has yet to launch in full) is ready and stable, Birch said, Bebo will add those APIs to its developer arsenal, too. "OpenSocial and the Facebook Platform are clearly different platforms," he said, then added jokingly, "Our lazy development team said they couldn't do both at once."

About 40 developers and companies have created applications for Bebo's platform launch. Among them are NBC Universal, which has created two new applications for the Bebo platform, one based on the hit show The Office, and one for Astrology.com, part of the company's iVillage brand; movie-centric social-media company Flixster, which has created a version of its application for Bebo; and virtual world Gaia Online, which has created the "Gaia OMG" application so members can access the service through Bebo.

"We want the good quality applications to rise to the top," Birch said, demonstrating the ability of Bebo users to rate applications on a five-star scale. The home (or "canvas") pages for Bebo applications are a little more extensive than Facebook's, with custom "skins" that members can then opt to add to their own profile pages. "It is a full-blown profile," Birch explained.

Birch stressed that Bebo is a platform for media consumption in addition to socialization. "We're very much focused on self expression and on content and media," he explained. Indeed, earlier this year, Bebo launched its Open Media Platform so content creators could start a presence on the social network. The Open Application Platform, Birch said, will do for developers what Open Media did for media companies.