Facebook: It's party time for the social Web...on the iPhone

Facebook Connect for the iPhone is the company's big announcement at senior platform manager Dave Morin's talk at the South by Southwest Interactive Festival.

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
4 min read

Facebook's Dave Morin gets social with a Flip video camera before his talk. Caroline McCarthy/CNET News

Updated at 10:12 a.m. PDT.

AUSTIN, Texas--"A joke I always make here is that if your friend did something on the Internet and you didn't hear about it, did it actually happen?" Facebook senior platform manager Dave Morin said as he described the social network's renewed focus on a real-time stream of updates of friends' activities across the Web.

"We're happy to announce today that you have more control over the stream than ever before," Morin said, showing off screenshots of the recently redesigned Facebook homepage, which he said is now live for all members. "You have the ability to add and remove the people whose voices you care about the most."

More importantly? Facebook Connect has come to the iPhone. Read on.

Morin kept things lively, bringing up special guests like Seesmic founder Loic le Meur, who showed off the first-ever desktop client for Facebook, and Wine Library's Gary Vaynerchuk, who talked about using Facebook fan pages for personal branding.

"I wanted more than 5,000 friends," Vaynerchuk said, referring to the friends-list limit for normal Facebook profiles.. "I want to meet every person on Earth, and I want to buy the New York Jets. And a product like this allows me to do this, I think...This is word-of-mouth on steroids."

Morin's talk was Facebook's big SXSWi event. It was a far cry from last year's keynote address, in which famously awkward CEO Mark Zuckerberg was interviewed onstage by BusinessWeek columnist Sarah Lacy and the audience started to heckle when they didn't hear what they wanted to.

This year, the talk was a smaller one--albeit one that packed the room--led by the more extroverted Morin, who took the stage in cowboy boots and a suede jacket and responded to glitches and fluctuations with the room's lighting system by saying, "This is pretty awesome. It's a dance party!"

Morin's discussion, called "The Search for a More Social Web," comes at a time when Facebook has opted to start crawling out of its shell. Unlike many other big social networks, Facebook has traditionally kept its content behind a log-in wall, with only limited information available to search engines and nonmembers. But the Facebook Connect universal log-in service, launched last year, gives third-party sites the ability to let users register with their existing Facebook credentials. What users do on the third-party sites then gets reflected back to their activity stream on Facebook.

And this month, the social network launched not only reconfigured public profiles for brands, companies, and celebrities, but also redesigned versions of its homepage and profile pages that many observers and critics compared with the stream-like feed format of the uber-open Twitter.

"We think that the stream is an important concept that all of us on the Internet are working toward," Morin said, "and we think it's going to be a template for the future."

What's also important is Facebook Connect, Morin explained. He showed off examples from Joost to Xobni to iPhoto that have been souping up their social-networking offerings with the log-in standard.

"We have one more thing," Morin said at the end in an obvious nod to Apple CEO Steve Jobs. "It's all about mobile and the iPhone, so today we're announcing Facebook Connect for the iPhone. For the first time, your iPhone apps can now have friends."

This means an application developer that has created an app for both the iPhone and Facebook can invite players to interact with one another cross-platform.

Launch partners are primarily games: among them are the Social Gaming Network (SGN), Tapulous, Zynga, and Playfish. SGN founder Shervin Pishevar showed off a new game called Agency Wars, in which players can take on the roles as spies and use geolocation to ambush friends in the real world on both Facebook and the iPhone.

"With the Facebook implementation, you can see all of your friends and recruit them to your agency and go on missions with them worldwide," Pishevar said.

"There's no reason why you shouldn't do this," Tapulous founder Andrew Lacy said of Facebook Connect for the iPhone.

But not all the launch partners were games: there was also Urbanspoon, an iPhone app that lets you randomly find restaurants nearby with a slot-machine format. Developer Patrick O'Donnell showed off how Facebook Connect has come to Urbanspoon: "One of the core missions of Urbanspoon is to bring together all the voices that you trust when you're trying to find out where to eat," he said. Photos and reviews can be added from Facebook accounts, and Urbanspoon preferences now show up in Facebook news feeds.

And movie-reviews app Flixster showed off how its iPhone app now lets members find Facebook friends who want to see the same movies and see what movies they've liked.

Morin said that Facebook Connect integration for the iPhone is soon coming from the likes of Slide, Loopt, MTV, EA Sports, Citizen Sports, and Pinger.

For more interested developers, Morin said that a new round of funding has been added to its FBFund developer seed fund specifically for iPhone developers.

"It's not just the search for social anymore, but we now have the social Web that we've all been dreaming of," he concluded.