UK Web Focus (Brian Kelly)

Innovation and best practices for the Web

The Opening Up Of Facebook

Posted by Brian Kelly on 3 Dec 2007

Opening Up The Data

Via the Are there 100,000 people for open data in Facebook? group on Facebook I found the statement that “We already know that Mark Zuckerberg has committed Facebook to opening up its data“. The group description links to an article in Macworld entitled “Web 2.0: Facebook wants to make members’ data portable” which begins with the announcement that “Facebook wants to make the data its members enter into the social network’s profiles portable, so that they can move that data to other online services if they want, the company’s CEO said Wednesday“.

Opening Up Development

Back in March 2007 I wrote a post on Dapper – Web Mashup Development For All? which described how the Dapper Web-based can open up the development of Web-based applications. I recently discovered a FireFox extension called DapperFox which makes Dapper even easier to use.

More importantly I have just been alerted to a Dapper post which announces that the Dapper Facebook AppMaker Now Open to Public: “What this will allow you to do is take ANY Dapp and turn it into a fully independent Facebook app. Use your own header, footer, background styling — really make it yours — and with absolutely no programming“.

So now, it would appear, development of Facebook applications is opening up to, perhaps not the masses, but those with lightweight development skills or interests. And by taking data from public Web sites and making it available within a Facebook environment, you are not locking the data within Facebook, as the original data source is still available on the Web.

Enhancing Its Services

Facebook started off as a social networking environment. But as I wrote on 9 November Facebook now allows entries for organisations to be created within Facebook. And now, less than a month later, the Open University’s Facebook page shows that the organisation now has over 2,000 fans and what appears to be the start of a thriving discussion forum.

Phil Bradley recently provided a series of posts on a JIBS conference on Is library 2.0 a trivial pursuit?. One of his post described a talk on The British Library in Facebook. The British Library (BL) “sees the use of social networking sites as a way of getting out there, providing information in situations and places where people are”. They have set up a number of Facebook groups, including groups which support the exhibitions they are running and the BL’s business and SME support services, as well as a BL organisational pages and groups for internal use.


It’s here; it’s popular; it’s still developing; authoring tools are being developed; it’s getting more open. Can any organisation seriously argue that they shouldn’t be considering how Facebook can be used to support organisational aims? And shouldn’t those involved in IT development also be looking at what can be learnt from Facebook’s successes? And shouldn’t the Semantic Web purists acknowledge the views which Paul Miller sums up with his comment on the Nodalities blog:

The noble vision of the Semantic Web is just that; a noble – and long term – vision. The years of seeking perfect answers to perfectly formed questions – a practice of which too many in the Semantic Web community are guilty – have not helped to move us nearly as far forward as we should have come. The over-reliance upon complex and impractically all-encompassing ontologies have bogged us down, and invited ridicule.”

4 Responses to “The Opening Up Of Facebook”

  1. Tony Hirst said

    Hi Brian

    There are quite a few ways of building a Facebook app in a couple of clicks… see here for example: How to Build Your Own Facebook App

    Re: the OU Facebook presence, as well as the ‘official site’ with its 2000 fans, the *unofficial* OU Course Profiles app – which allows students to declare the courses they have taken, are taking or intend to take – also now has over 2000 users.

    What’s interesting to me is that we now have enough users of the app (ie enough data) to start exploring how we might build recommendation systems around the data the users have volunteered…

  2. It’s here; it’s popular; it’s still developing; authoring tools are being developed; it’s getting more open.

    Ah, you missed the line, “and it’s getting hungrier for your personal data” ;-) Or did you miss the Beacon furore? (And yes, I know Fb have back-tracked, but please don’t try to persuade me that’s evidence of how responsive to their users they are!)

    I didn’t understand the relevance of the comment about “Semantic Web purists”: the people I hear criticising Fb are (mainly) people concerned with privacy and intellectual property rights, not whether Fb uses RDF.

    So, I hear you ask, if I’m that bothered, why haven’t I deleted my Fb account in protest?

    Because I started playing Warbook.

    That’s about the only reason I’m still on Fb. And even that has become a pain because of all the tiresome Flash ads. Someone should bludgeon my paltry kingdom back to the stone age, then I’d have no reason to stay ;-)

  3. Hi Pete – Ta for the comments. I felt that a lot of the initial criticisms (expressed here anyway) were related to the issue of data lock-in. If that can be addressed (as Mark Zuckerberg statement seems to be saying) the concerns will move on to other areas. These will include commercial exploitation of IPR and privacy issues – although I suspect the answer to the question “Are there 100,000 people who believe Facebook should open source?” will be no, as this is of no interest to most users. The question of the underlying data model for data held in Facebook and how that is exposed is, to me, of more interest, but not to most users. And we might find that most users are prepared to tolerate ads if it is needed to ensure that there’s a business model to ensure that captivating content can be delivered – this works for Skt, after all.

  4. Roddy MacLeod said

    Hi Brian,

    May I be the first on your blog to congratulate you on becoming the Information Professional of the Year 2007.

    Well done, and very much deserved.


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