Facebook scored big by opening up to outside developers. Now its rivals are aiming to follow in its footsteps.
In the past weeks, social networks Tagged, Hi5 and LinkedIn have
Third-party developers appear unfazed by the prospect of creating applications for a half-dozen platforms. In fact, they realize that unlike the desktop, where simply writing for the Windows operating system means reaching the bulk of PC users, there's no one "ecosystem" that can lock in users--at least not yet. As a result, developers have to work with several of them.
"We definitely intend to develop on all the platforms that will be coming out, and we're stacking up to do exactly that," said Jia Shen, chief technology officer of widget company RockYou, which has stood out as one of the Facebook Platform's notable successes. "To us, it's not a gamble."
The idea of wooing developers to one social-networking platform makes Google, which has for several years been integrating with third-party developers on other properties such as Google Maps, an intriguing possibility in this fight for attention.
Sources say the company might
"The advantage that Google has over other would-be players or start-ups is that just by virtue of being Google, they will compel attention," said Stephen O'Grady, an analyst with RedMonk.
Sources familiar with the search giant's plans have told CNET News.com that a number of developers have already been invited to work with what may be the Google platform, but they're being tight-lipped and developers have been ordered to stay mum. Google representatives, including
Nick O'Neill, who runs the AllFacebook blog, likened the platform fight to a colonial land grab. "Facebook was the catalyst for this race to own the social graph," O'Neill said, using Mark Zuckerberg's term for the web of real-life connections and communications the Web replicates. Social-networking companies "are trying to own large components of the social graph because you're going to want to use one in theory." In his opinion, Web users will inevitably grow tired of using three or four social networks to access their online lives.
But if colonial powers of yore wanted access to natural resources, what Facebook and its rivals want is hegemony over our interactions. The more we use a social network as a surrogate environment for our real-world relationships, the more time we spend on the site. "It's the attention economy," O'Neill said.
That's also where Google may have an advantage. "Unless (Facebook) builds an e-mail client to try and compete with Gmail, basically, that's Google's leverage over Facebook," he said.
But even if the developer platform is the trendiest concept in social networking since the friends list, it's also an incarnation of some of its problems, such as security and privacy.
And for developers, they're entrusting the platform with their own creativity. Facebook has already made it clear that there are
Facebook's platform made it the talk of the town in Silicon Valley, but it's not yet clear how that interest will turn into cash. It's that esoteric concept of an "ecosystem" around Facebook that will take time to prove itself.
"It'll be interesting to see what other platforms come out with from a revenue standpoint," RockYou's Shen said.
As the platform rush expands beyond traditional social networking, profitability is on the mind. Samir Arora, CEO of women's-focused media company Glam Media--which has built its business model around a loose network of ad-supported "member" sites--told CNET News.com that Glam would soon be unveiling a developer platform strategy for third parties to create distributable apps.
The widgets, Arora explained, "must be monetizable." Google, meanwhile, shouldn't have to worry about this one--it's already got AdSense. Chalk up another point for Mountain View.
It's also clear that social networks, particularly smaller ones, can't just unveil a developer platform and expect the users to flood in. "Basically, what developers want, in my opinion, out of a platform more than anything else, is volume," O'Grady said. "They want to be able to reach the widest possible audience."