an article in the Wall Street Journal today, social networking site Facebook will announce later this week that it is opening inward (my term, not theirs) and allowing "other companies [to] provide their services on special pages within its popular Web site."According to
"For instance, an online retailer could build a service in Facebook to let people recommend music or books to their friends, based on the relationships they've already established on the site. Or a media company could let groups of users share news articles with each other on a page inside Facebook."
To me that doesn't sound too much different than the currently available Facebook API, which has already been used to launch services within the Facebook network (perhaps with Facebook's approval for the more tightly integrated ones), such as Oodle's Facebook classifieds. But according to Steve O'Hear, this move seems to indicate Facebook moving in the direction of becoming a platform.
Acting as a platform is something MySpace already does, to an extent, though their user data is still mostly off limits. They also often have a tenuous relationship with the companies that feed their ecosystem. Could the rumor about Facebook widgets that WIRED spread last month be related to this? There will be a large contingent of Facebook users hoping that the answer to that question is no. Among many core users, Facebook is looked at as the "anti-MySpace" and any move perceived as a shift toward "MySpacification" is met with skepticism and opposition.
When Facebook announced its intention to open up its network to those outside of universities last fall, Facebook users protested on site rather vocally. Tens of thousands of users joined a Facebook group opposing the move. But it has paid off for Facebook. Facebook's marketshare was up 106% from September 2006-April 2007, according to Hitwise. "Opening up to the entire Internet audience had a positive effect for Facebook" said LeeAnn Prescott, director of research at Hitwise. "Clickstream data indicate that users at other social networking sites may be experimenting with Facebook as an alternative site, which may help it attain critical mass among non-collegiate users."
And there's no doubt how successful widgets have been in helping to push MySpace to the top. At the end of last year, Newsweek even declared 2007 to be the "Year of the Widget." Facebook is in a precarious position with their core users, who are very set and their ways and resistant toward change that would bring Facebook closer to the look and feel of other social networks. At the same time, they may want a piece of the action. Of course, this could just be a more expanded API. And in fact, that seems more likely.
The WSJ article points out that Facebook has no plans to share revenue with companies that develop services to piggyback on the site. As Steve O'Hear points out, that could present its own problems. Facebook needs to find a balance, he says, and build out their platform in a way that benefits all involved parties.
What do you think of Facebook opening up to more outside services?