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Facebook to let other sites access platform code

In surprise move, social network announces it will let other social-media sites have access to its applications. Is Google's OpenSocial dead in the water?

This post has been updated with information about Bebo's implementation of Facebook's code.

And now, for something we didn't see coming: Facebook has announced that the architecture for its developer platform will be made available to other social-networking sites, potentially rendering moot the criticism that its strategy is too "closed"--and potentially dealing a huge blow to Google's yet-to-launch OpenSocial initiative.

Facebook senior platform manager Ami Vora posted a blog entry Wednesday with the announcement. "(We) want to share the benefits of our work by enabling other social sites to use our platform architecture as a model," Vora wrote. "In fact, we'll even license the Facebook Platform methods and tags to other platforms." A developer page elaborates that "the 100,000 developers currently building Facebook applications can make their applications available on other social sites with no extra work."

In the official wording from Facebook, the Palo Alto, Calif.-based social network is "making its platform architecture available as a model for other social sites," and sees this as the natural evolution of a constantly changing product.

This announcement comes in the wake of three OpenSocial partners--LinkedIn, Friendster, and Bebo--all releasing their own developer platform initiatives independent of the Google-run program.

One of them, Bebo, specifically designed its developer code to be compatible with Facebook's. As it turns out, that's all part of Facebook's strategy; Bebo is the first major social network to implement this new "open" platform code from Facebook.

"We're glad to see Bebo take advantage of the work we've put into designing and building a complete, usable platform," a statement from Facebook said of its would-be rival. "Having similar platforms across multiple social sites is good for everyone: developers get more reach for their applications, social sites get more people developing for their site, and users have better experiences no matter where they are on the Web."

But the Facebook release also stressed that this is not any kind of special alliance. "No, this is not a collaboration or partnership with Bebo," the statement reminded speculative readers. "A core Facebook principle is openness and access for everyone, so we've decided to enable any social sites to model their own platforms after Facebook Platform."

The initial launch of Facebook's developer platform in May sparked a frenzy of developer activity and interest in third-party contributions to social networks. Google announced OpenSocial months before it was ready, largely as a PR move to counter the Facebook juggernaut. And some OpenSocial partners, like Plaxo, have already claimed that OpenSocial has shown results.

But others are waiting until the code has proven itself stable--and that has meant that OpenSocial is still largely a concept, not a concrete phenomenon.

Facebook could use a move toward "openness," too. In addition to "walled garden" criticism, Facebook's image as the darling of Silicon Valley took a tumble with its controversial Beacon advertising program and shady allegations about CEO Mark Zuckerberg's past.

It's likely that this new move will make Facebook look friendlier. "This is just another step toward the vision of easy, open sharing of information," Vora continued in the announcement. "We look forward to supporting other social sites as they release their own platforms, and look forward most of all to the added benefit for developers and users."