Facebook opens an API to developers

Facebook recently released an API for developers in order to allow them to create new applications that use the data available from Facebook, adding to the functionality already offered by the website. There are already applications in development, despite the recent release; the API is in a beta version, and doesn’t offer a whole lot of methods, but it’s a great move and will help to improve the staying power of Facebook, as if it needed it.

If you open it, they will come

Opening an API up to developers is a great move, for several reasons. Firstly, it signifies that your organization is open to feedback and ideas from the community, and gives them the green light to develop new uses for your service. Developers will surely create new applications and plugins that allow your service to be used in many different contexts, thus increasing both the popularity and scope of your website or service. But, perhaps the best part is that these developers willingly create these extensions, offering improved functionality, for free. As much as I hate MySpace, they could learn a thing or two from Facebook’s API move, considering they’ve made moves in the exact opposite direction. The release of this API, for Facebook, is further insurance that their service will have staying power with its users; it’s already been reported that 85% of college students are using it, with the majority logging in at least once a week.

In many ways this is like a game developer releasing a SDK to allow other developers to create mods for it. No matter which way you look at it, the end result is beneficial to all. The original game developer gets more exposure, end users get more substance, and mod developers get a chance to show off their skills.

Facebook is also popular with the geeks

As mentioned before, developers are already at work making new services for Facebook; it’s almost as if they were waiting to pull the trigger on this one – and this is only on the first day! Though the beta API is somewhat limited, some ideas that could be done include: working with a user’s events to transform them into a syndicated format (such as RSS or Atom), or even to move them over to a different format (like iCal) or service like Google Calendar using their API.

Another use that’s been talked about is somehow integrated Facebook functionality with Google Maps, using the respective APIs – that would totally rock. However, at present time I don’t think it’s possible – I don’t see any methods available for getting location information, but in the future, I see this becoming a reality. Edit: I stand corrected. Check out Facebook Friend Mapper. (There is a users.getInfo() method that I apparently completely missed.)

At present time…

As mentioned, the API is currently in beta, so expect more methods to be added beyond the original 14 that are currently described in the documentation. Some other facts from the terms-of-service are:

API use is currently free, but this may change
This is pretty standard legalese. You’re currently limited to 100,000 requests per day.
You are not allowed to store Facebook data on your site
Makes sense as well; it’s Facebook’s data, they don’t want you just copying it and hosting it off-site.
Intellectual Property – you own all the code you create
This is a pretty important one. Facebook won’t “appropriate” what you’ve created, but at the same time, you’re responsible for what you create, not Facebook. If you develop an application that makes the user’s computer catch fire, burn down their house, and kill their kitten, obviously Facebook is not going to foot the legal bill.

Facebook can expect good returns on this move; many users have wanted a calendary to display their events, and now that functionality can easily be added by a developer, without Facebook even having to commit time or money to it. Other features could be added in a similar manner, if Facebook continues to add to their new API.

Facebook is pretty much the only large, well-designed social networking site, and the release of their API only furthers this positive perception. MySpace is pretty much the exact opposite, and I don’t think they could care – they have plenty of users, are making a lot of money, and just signed a huge deal with Google. For them, it’s a classic case of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. Too bad that basically keeps them where Geocities was during the late 1990’s. Kudos to Facebook for being progressive.

Comments for this entry are closed

But feel free to indulge in some introspective thought.