Facebook still pitching itself to open-source crowd

Facebook's rep at the Future of Web Apps event in Miami this week was David Recordon, the company's open-standards guru. That's a crowd that the social network still has yet to win over.

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
2 min read

MIAMI--The overwhelmingly young and male audience at the Future of Web Apps (FOWA) event this week tells you that it's one of those conferences where the attendees don't tend to be marketers, finance guys, or advertisers: they're the kids who write the code.

A company like Facebook obviously wants to be there, and at past FOWA events it's used the soapbox opportunity to market developer initiatives like its application platform and Facebook Connect log-in tool. But this year the focus was instead on open source, with relatively recent hire David Recordon taking the stage rather than a platform evangelist. Recordon, who spearheaded the launch of the Open Web Foundation, is Facebook's first really prominent open-source guru, and when it comes to Facebook's marketing pitches, the open-source guys have taken a little more coaxing than the iPhone developers or widget-builders.

For a time, much of the open-source community was outright hostile to Facebook for keeping content behind a log-in wall, relying on proprietary technologies rather than open standards, and declining to participate in big open-Web initiatives like the Google-helmed OpenSocial and FriendConnect. Facebook's hire of Recordon, a Six Apart veteran, was therefore both a savvy PR move as well as a key engineering hire.

His point in his FOWA talk on Tuesday was to explain some of the open-source initiatives offered or supported by Facebook: mobile development library Three20, PHP source code transformer HipHop, authentication technology OAuth 2.0, publishing protocol PubSubHubbub ("definitely named by an engineer," Recordon quipped), and Web server Tornado.

"I joined Facebook about six months ago and it's been sort of nonstop since then," Recordon said at the start of his talk. "The first week I got there was a few weeks after the FriendFeed acquisition, and FriendFeed had an amazing piece of technology, a Web server Tornado." Facebook open-sourced Tornado, which powered FriendFeed's real-time streaming technology, and Recordon said that start-ups like Twitter client Brizzly and Q&A site Quora are now using it.

"(Open source) is really stable," Recordon said. "You're able to go and build gigantic Web sites. A lot of Facebook's Web site is built on open-source technology." It's been nearly two years since Facebook released much of the code behind its developer platform as open source, and it has joined the OpenID foundation. Yet the skeptics are still around.

Recordon acknowledged onstage that Facebook now faces the hurdle associated with simply being a huge company, something that can make some open-source geeks inherently suspicious. It's the same problem that Google, which has a much longer history of supporting open standards, still faces--and why both companies keep up a presence at events like this one.