SAN FRANCISCO--Inside Facebook blogger Justin Smith had quite an opportunity on his hands. He was moderating a panel called "Comparing Social Platforms," featuring five representatives of some of the biggest players on the social Web: Dave Morin of Facebook, Allen Hurff of MySpace, Jessica Alter of Bebo, Patrick Chanezon of Google, and David Recordon of Six Apart. Smith had the chance to be a digital devil's advocate and get a lively debate going.
Why won't Facebook sign on to the OpenSocial standard that Google kick-started? Why hasn't MySpace's developer platform caught on as fast as execs had hoped? And how's it going with Bebo's have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too strategy of accepting both OpenSocial- and Facebook- compatible developer applications? On that note, how has Bebo's acquisition by AOL changed things? There were so many questions that could've been explored.
Unfortunately, the panel was sort of a yawn. Maybe that's because it was 8:30 a.m., and a number of the panelists had likely been out till the break of dawn at the wild party Digg threw the previous night. (A Web 2.0 maxim: When all else fails, blame fratty Digg founder Kevin Rose.) And the overall gist of the panel--"developer platforms are so new, so who knows where they'll go?"--didn't exactly provide a whole lot of answers to the curious audience.
"The social graph hasn't even been tapped yet," Morin, senior platform manager at Facebook, said. "We're literally, like, right in the beginning." That was pretty much the gist of the whole panel. Smith, too, brought up the novelty of it all: "A year ago, none of the platforms or products that we're talking about were even publicly available."
Chanezon, an OpenSocial API evangelist at Google, didn't exactly toss any punches at Facebook's Morin for not jumping on the OpenSocial bandwagon. In fact, he gave the social network a bit of praise for pioneering the idea of a developer platform. Once Facebook opened its doors to outside developers, everyone else wanted a piece of the action. "Social apps didn't exist before you guys. You just created the space."
A few interesting points were brought up. Alter talked about Bebo's current challenge of providing accurate metrics as to exactly which applications are drawing the most activity. Morin teased Facebook's upcoming payment system as a way to help developers make a buck or two. "Social commerce is likely the future of how e-commerce is done on the Web," he said, "so we're working on a commerce engine and enabling people to take payments on Facebook."
Smith briefly addressed MySpace's developer platform, asking Hurff, the News Corp.-owned site's director of engineering, why things had been "taking a bit slower" than expected. "We are taking it slow," Hurff answered as though it were a deliberate choice on MySpace's part. "I expect that to pick up...we haven't had anything bad happen."
Things briefly got exciting when Morin started mentioning Facebook's commitments to data portability--the ability to translate your identity from one social network to the next--and Six Apart's Recordon seemed to take issue. "Our intent is to enable the user to take their data with them anywhere they want to go...it's certainly our intent to enable a user to have access to whatever data they need," Morin explained. It seemed a little bit counterintuitive, considering Facebook's closed-off reputation. "Over the next year we're thinking a lot about how to do that both on Facebook and off of Facebook."
Recordon interjected,"You can't just go out and say we need data portability." Later in the panel, after I suggested via Twitter that he was implying that Facebook's commitment to data portability was all talk, he elaborated. "All of data portability is talk. People need to focus on doing something useful with open standards, and portability will come naturally."
Beyond that, the panel was mostly predictable. The panelists seemed to agree that the art of the developer platform is evolving, and will continue to evolve. Great. We knew that already. One prediction, however, struck a chord: "One of the things that I can see happening in the next year," Chanezon predicted, "(is that) application developers are going to start to open up their own APIs for other application developers to reuse." In other words, a platform on a platform.