Kara Swisher

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Facebook Tries Harder

Why wouldn’t you be happy with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, who awkwardly–and I mean that in the nicest way–took to the stage yesterday to announce the launch of the Facebook Platform?

The more than 750 people–a jeans-and-T-shirt-clad army of Web developers there for an eight-hour hackathon afterward–in the audience at the San Francisco Design Center’s Concourse certainly had good reason.

The 23-year-old founder of the No. 2 social-networking site gave them the love and, best of all, access to his 23 million active users.

And with the move to embrace third-party developers in a digital bear hug, Zuckerberg undoubtedly added a lot of friends to his site on Facebook.

“Until now, social networks have been closed platforms,” said Zuckerberg, wearing those flip-flops again (which are now about as annoying to me as the lava lamps and colorful bouncy balls at Google eventually became) and dealing with a series of small demo snafus. “Today, we’re going to end that.”

That quote, of course, was a smack right in the kisser of MySpace, the top and massively larger social-networking site, which has taken a more dictatorial approach, either suing or buying any third-party developer that dares to try to leverage its giant audience.


After yesterday’s opening up, Facebook has officially become Avis to MySpace’s Hertz.

Here’s a video I did of the event, including some of Zuckerberg on stage (in the style that strikingly recalls the onstage robotic geekiness of Google’s Sergey Brin and Larry Page). The last images of the network always remind me of that old Breck shampoo commercial (“She told two friends and they told two friends and so on and so on and so on…”).

Calling on outside developers to integrate their applications into the service–from Amazon book reviews, to file and photo storage, to Microsoft’s Popfly Web development tool for nondevelopers–Facebook was, in essence, declaring itself a new kind of portal–and I also mean that in the nicest way–where come-one-come-all was the order of the day.

In addition, Zuckerberg made clear developers could, as investment bankers are fond of saying, eat what they kill by allowing them to charge for services and also put ads on their own pages. It is a bit like eBay’s marketplace, where sellers use the framework provided by the auction company, except this has the more powerful element of social networking mixed in.

In fact, the concept and direction are actually quite inspired, as they seek to find ways of growing the customer base by offering new features that Facebook could never create on its own.

By leveraging the innovation of others, Facebook reaps the benefits and pays for none of the cost of development, using its audience as its currency. Back in the day, AOL used to hold up advertisers and content providers for this unique privilege.

It also differentiates itself from MySpace, which–for all its shaggy-dog chaotic look–is actually resistant to others. Its attack of file-and-photo storage company Photobucket, which it will complete the acquisition of this coming week, is a study in Soprano-style business. An offer hard to refuse: You’re either with us–or you’re with us.

Zuckerberg also (and also clumsily for how nice the application looks) demoed new ability to add videos to profile pages, as well as email. It’s a necessary feature–which MySpace has scattered throughout its system–and, as usual for Facebook, has been done well.

Given the new moves yesterday, as I have written here and here, it is entirely clear that Facebook is on its own and on a very interesting journey. Zuckerberg, who has said many times he admired the independent streak of the founders of Google, has now definitively declared he and Facebook are going it alone.

Well, he and all his new friends, of course.