Facebook 101

Stanford Facebook Class LogoA story from a few days ago but have only just got around to blogging about – students at Stanford University in the US are developing Facebook applications as part of their coursework. Students get to develop a “real” application and immediately see the results being used in the wild. The most successful application in the Stanford class has just short of 100,000 daily users! Most of the applications have been fairly frivolous but that’s not really the point – it covers the entire life cycle of an application from conception through to deployment and maintenance (100,000 users hitting your servers needs some serious management!).

So far only the first application has come out and there’s more of the course to come. The second application will focus on a problem in teaching and learning (lecturers – you can breathe again – it’s not all about “Get Wasted” and “KissMe”!) and there’s also presentations and analysis. I think this is a great idea and I’ve got a bunch of ideas for Facebook (or OpenSocial or whatever come next) applications that would be really useful for the University to develop, now where can I find some students? 😉

More on OpenSocial

It seems that Google had more up their sleeves than the early announcements that leaked out. Today they added MySpace, Bebo and Six Apart (of Moveable Type, LiveJournal, TypePad and Vox fame) to the list of relatively minor players. MySpace announced back in June that they’re looking to open up and it would appear that this deal with Google goes back over a year.

This significantly increases the potential market for the OpenSocial platform and will be a definite draw to developers looking to engage with MySpace and Bebo users. This is unlikely to change my personal views on either of these sites but by having a standard API to write for it removes the problems of having to pander to NewsCorp’s whims.

Alison commented yesterday about Facebook’s next move:

I’ll be interested to see how long it is before Facebook choose to support Open Social… surely that’s the next obvious step for them?!

I’m more tempted to agree now, but it’s still not a given. Facebook are saying they’ve not been asked to join, itself not a great surprise but Google won’t be able to stop Facebook from joining in once the API is released. A bigger factor is perhaps Facebook’s plans for their Social Advertising Network. If they see OpenSocial as an opportunity to push targetted adverts out on competitor’s sites through embedded applications then there’s a strong financial motivation to join in.

Is OpenSocial the beginning of the end for Facebook?

Google and partners (including LinkedIn, Hi5, Friendster, Ning and others) are launching a new open API for interfacing with Social Networks. I’m not going to go into it too much because plenty of people have written about it already but I’ll give a few comments.

If you’re looking for one blog to read to get a feel of OpenSocial before all the gory details come out at Google Code then check out what Marc Andreessen has written. He’s the founder of Ning so clearly has an interest in OpenSocial succeeding but cut through the spin and there’s some valid points.

Where does this leave Facebook? At the moment it’s still the largest social network amongst university students so ignoring it doesn’t make sense. What OpenSocial allows is for developers to avoid vendor lock-in by writing applications for multiple platforms. Where previously there was no clear second choice to base features and implementation around, now there is a large aggregate user base to target. It will help developers to write cleaner code which can more easily be repurposed for new platforms, even alternative interfaces such as mobile phones.

This is also a pretty canny move from Google. Their own social network, Orkut, while big in Brazil has not found a significant following in the major markets. By introducing a system based on standards – the API is based on JavaScript and HTML – they’re lowering the barriers to developers by not requiring them to learn another markup or query language as is the case with Facebook.

Ultimately while this move might be supporting the growth of rival social networks, Google’s dominance and the sheer quantity of data it holds about everyone will enable it to grow Orkut and its other social websites (Documents, Talk, YouTube, Picasa, Blogger, Calendar and the rest all have further scope to become more social).