Facebook begins to open up – recognizing and riding the inevitable trend


Last week, in the heat of the grand discussion on openness in social networks, I wrote in a blog post titled Is the trend to openness accelerating? Social networks as an inflection point:

I see the trend towards openness accelerating, which makes playing the lock-in game ever more difficult. I think that the current debate reflects that today there is far greater visibility for lack of openness in offerings, and less tolerance for that. What is currently playing out in the social network space is a fantastic case study that is relevant across all business segments. After MySpace dominating the social networking space, Facebook has shifted to the front very quickly, through openness in its APIs. It is at risk of having its leadership short-lived, if others quickly leap on to people’s preference for open systems, especially when it concerns their personal relationships.

However the more likely path is that Facebook sees the trends, and swiftly opens out its systems. Any incumbent is loath to shift to greater openness, but given the players and the landscape today, I don’t think that Facebook is not going to hold on too tightly for too long.

Looking back in a year or two from now, we may see that now was an inflection point in openness in social networks. We may also find that this shift has impacted many other facets of the information and businesses worlds. The jury is still out, but I think the evidence points to the current landscape being a manifestation of the acceleration of openness.

Today, just one week after I predicted that Facebook would open out, Dave Winer writes Facebook *is* opening up, noting that he’s discovered some new RSS feeds from Facebook, including a Friends Update Status, and Friends Posted Item. Paul Thompson says that the Friends Update Status has been available since last month, while Techcrunch says that this will win Facebook a lot of friends.

Providing RSS feeds for key information in Facebook basically means that you don’t need to go to Facebook to see your updates and information. You still have to maintain a profile in Facebook, and it will still be the platform for your social networks, but you are far freer in how you use it. One implication is it’s harder to monetize, as you can’t be sure of presenting advertisement to your users. However if being freer means you can maintain the role of predominant social network, you definitely will find other ways of making money, not least because the majority of an increased network will choose to interface to their network through Facebook.