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MySpace gets social with developers

The Web's largest social network unveils its new developer platform with a winter beach party for developers, complete with DJ and sand toys.

SAN FRANCISCO--MySpace's courtship of developers officially started Tuesday evening with a winter beach party, an open bar, and mac and cheese.

When you think about it, it's a cheap date for the amount of money MySpace--and its potential partners--hope to make from the social network's new developer platform, which allows third-party applications like music-sharing service iLike to reach millions of new users. And to survey the crowd here at MySpace's San Francisco offices, where the company launched its new platform and online forums, application developers were already smitten with the idea. The free booze and comfort foods were just a bonus.

Max Levchin, CEO of Slide, one of the Web's largest makers of widgets, called the party a love fest because MySpace is finally giving outsiders the chance to make money on advertising from its enormous traffic.

"This is an enormous step to make companies like Slide more significant economic engines and not just engines of reach," Levchin, a co-founder of PayPal, said in an interview at the party.

MySpace's developer site
A look at MySpace's developer site. MySpace

Slide, for example, draws as much as 143 million unique visitors a month for its collection of widgets and applications, including Slideshows, which lets people display photos on MySpace and Facebook. He said the bulk of those 143 million visitors come from MySpace, where Slide hasn't been able to profit from use of its tools the way it has from the no. 2 social network Facebook, which lets third parties sell ads against their tools. Starting in March, Slide will be able to display ads on a standalone "canvas" page of a member's site and collect 100 percent of that revenue, similar to Facebook.

More than money, MySpace is attempting to build up the kind of thriving hub of developers that have surrounded Facebook since it opened its social network last May. So many entrepreneurs are looking to capitalize on the viral, social-swapping nature of Facebook that Stanford University even offered a class last semester on how to develop applications for it. Jim Benedetto, MySpace's senior vice president of tech operations, said that with the launch of its open developer platform, Stanford professor David McClure, who was at the party, plans to change his class so that it catered to MySpace apps, too.

"With OpenSocial (the set of application tools that drives MySpace's new open platform) there's no need for developers to learn proprietary code so they can create applications for our site," Benedetto said, referring to Facebook. He said that OpenSocial will allow anyone to easily port their application from MySpace to rival Beebo, for example.

Benedetto said that starting Tuesday, application makers will have a month to build their tools for MySpace; then in March, the company will unleash them to members. He said they expect to have thousands of new applications that will likely be more personalized than on other social networks. For example, a widget maker could create a tool for personalized calendars on a MySpace user homepage.

But back to the money, Benedetto said that developers will be able to sell ads or sponsorships of their own for each user's "canvas page," or where the application lives within a MySpace member page. Down the road, MySpace plans to help developers make money from ads with its beta service "hypertargeting," a system for displaying graphical ads on a page based on the member's personal tastes described in his or her profile, he said.

Joe Greenstein, co-founder and CEO of movie-ratings site Flixster, said he is developing a tool for MySpace, and so far, he's impressed with the platform. He's particularly excited about the opportunity to cater to the largest social network in the United States.

"More audience equals more money," Greenstein said at the party.

For his part, Levchin said that Slide would likely develop some new applications of its own for MySpace that cater to its younger, more entertainment-focused audience (as opposed to Facebook's older, more utilitarian crowd). But he would not detail the company's plans.

Whatever they are, they seem big. "It's pretty exciting now to be a widget company. We are the operating system of the future," Levchin said.