I hope the news that Facebook has just opened up its API to applications that sit outside of it is true. Frankly, as cool as the concept of Facebook apps are, needing to build inside their little box is very constricting. At Path 101, we were definitely going to leverage the Facebook platform around our personality testing, because we thought that comparing results to friends could be very viral, but, to be honest, needing to build that app to live within Facebook wasn't so exciting.
Now, we can just take the existing application and have the social aspect "powered by Facebook". That's very compelling.
It seems that Facebook understands that users don't spend 100% of their time on Facebook, so there's no sense trying to keep them there. By extending out to the rest of the web, they're making membership in Facebook that much more valuable. Even people who might not want to spend a lot of time on the site could see value in keeping their social network there, kind of like an address book.
I wonder if there's a business model in here. What if this made Facebook the defacto social dialtone on the web? Could they charge for API access, kind of like Amazon is doing with S3? What if it cost websites a few pennies everytime a user spread their app to their friends via the Facebook API anywhere on the web. Certainly most sites pay for user acquisition on some way. If they could set the right throttles and controls, I could see Facebook taking a small sliver of every single social transaction on the web--that's IF they get the social thing right.
In its current form, the viral spread of Facebook apps is, while trendsetting, still kind of hokey and it clutters up the user's experience. I like the fact that they're continuing to experiment, and this move could give them a whole new playing ground. When if you went to an app on the web, and it automatically told you that 25 of your friends have already used it and you could compare data with one click? That would be pretty neat, I think.
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