Today, Facebook (more coverage) announced a new direction: it's opening up. Not only is it making its community of users available to developers who want to create widgets for Facebook, but it's also launching a platform, Facebook/f8, through which entire community sites can be delivered.
Yesterday, in advance of the announcement, I talked with two CEOs who are now Facebook partners.
The more ambitious plan comes from Ali Partovi of iLike, a music community and recommendation system that is being rebuilt as a service that lives completely inside Facebook. As Partovi told me, the opportunity to do this was something he couldn't say "No" to. Given the chance to "build Facebook Music," he said, what music site CEO would turn it down?
What's cool about the product (in theory--I have not yet had my hands on it), is that it integrates the specialized music discovery functions that iLike has built, with the very rich social network functions of Facebook. For example, if you like a certain band, iLike will tell you when that band is coming to your town. That's not new. What's new is that now it will also tell you which of your Facebook friends might want to go to the concert with you.
Common to the other Facebook Platform sites, the iLike app will also integrate into the Facebook News Feed. So now your friends will be able to see what music you like and are listening to, and you'll be able to see their activity as well.
Partovi isn't yet sure what will happen to his original site, iLike.com. I get the impression that he fully expects the Facebook version of the site to quickly outstrip the traffic on the original site, and certainly there's no way iLike.com will be able to approach the community numbers that Facebook has. Partovi expects the musicians who have pages on iLike will be overjoyed: "With a flip of a switch, we're going to light up half a million musician profiles on Facebook."
I also spoke with Tem Jessiman of PicksPal, a site where users enter "picks" on sports events and entertainment. It's all for fun and bragging rights. It's clear that if online sports betting were legal in the U.S., this would be a very different site. (See the U.K.'s Betfair.)
PicksPal will integrate with Facebook/f8 by providing a widget that users can insert onto their profile pages showing their PicksPal activity, and, like iLike, it will also integrate into the news feed. The picks that users make will show up on their friends' feeds.
PicksPal, though, will remain a destination site. You won't find a clone of the main site on Facebook. The integration will be more like how mashup sites integrate with Flickr: The user authorizes Flickr to share data with the mashup site, but the user accounts and data on the services remain separate.
It's all about the News Feed
A controversial feature when it was introduced in September of 2006, the Facebook News Feed is going to be central to this new open system. It's the glue that binds the new services and their users together on the Facebook network. The feed will alert users when their friends interact with a new f8 service--when they listen to music, rent movies, buy things, and so on. It might lead to feed overload, but Facebook users will soon know a whole lot more about what their friends are up to. It will be like Twitter, but automatic.
It's also a fantastic viral marketing scheme for the f8 platform partners. Now, whenever someone uses one of their services, their transaction will act as an advertisement for the service to the user's closest friends.
The f8 platform will make Facebook more interesting, if perhaps also more noisy. And it is a very smart business move for Facebook itself.