New Facebook Tool Extends Its Web Presence


Facebook, the rapidly growing social network, unveiled some new features on Wednesday as it works to broaden its reach online and to realign its relationship with the thousands of developers writing programs for the service.

In a speech at his company’s annual conference for developers, Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s 24-year-old chief executive, also demonstrated the company’s new design. He predicted that there would soon be a wave of social Web sites built on top of the information users give to social networks.
To carve out a piece of that future, the company announced Facebook Connect, a way that other Web sites can integrate parts of Facebook’s service. Web sites can ask users for their Facebook user name and password, instead of creating an identity verification system themselves, and offer their users the ability to import their list of friends from Facebook.
For example, the mobile service company Loopt, based in Mountain View, California, helps people find their friends and see what they are doing on a map on their mobile phone. It will use Facebook Connect so its users do not have to re-enter their connections to the friends they want to track.
Sites including Google and MySpace have introduced similar systems for confirming users’ identities.
Facebook Connect is a two-way highway – information about a user’s activity on those other Web sites also travels back and appears on the “news feed” on Facebook, where it is seen by that person’s friends on the service. But Mr. Zuckerberg said users could strictly control what they share.
Mr. Zuckerberg also reflected on the 15 months since Facebook opened up its site to outside companies and invited them to build profitable features for it. 
The move was seen as smart inside the tech world. Facebook says 400,000 developers have worked on tools for the site, and others companies, including Google and Microsoft, have sought to create their own competing open systems.
But Facebook’s platform has also generated its share of controversy. Many stupid applications have clogged the site, and sought to spread themselves among users using a variety of tricks. Frustrated, Facebook has tried to counter that and put more emphasis on significant and trustworthy applications.
In terms of good applications, Facebook announced a series of new incentives for developers to write what it characterized as “meaningful” tools for the service. It said it would pick certain applications that meet a set of Facebook principles to be part of a new “Great Apps” program.
Those applications will get higher visibility on the service and will be able to work more closely with Facebook. Causes, a charitable giving tool, and iLike, a music sharing service, were the first two applications to receive this award.
Facebook said it was also setting up another level of certification, called the Facebook Verification program, for applications that meet the basic criteria of being secure and trustworthy. These applications will get added to visibility and a graphical “badge”.
The last few months have been marked by plenty of controversy in Facebook’s world, with developers complaining that Facebook was not communicating well about the changes to the service. Some accused Facebook of copying the most successful features of outside applications and introducting competing versions.
Not everyone was negative. Some say Facebook was simply learning as it goes, like everyone else is a unique Web experiment. I believe that Facebook will die out by the end of 2008 or the beginning of 09.
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