As Facebook Redefines the Social Web, Platform Manager Dave Morin Talks About the Coolest Facebook Apps From Boston and Seattle

9/25/08Follow @wroush

It’s September in Boston, and that can only mean one thing—conferences, conferences, conferences. Xconomy’s own life sciences event was on Tuesday, and I spent most of the day yesterday at EmTech 08, the big annual tech-fest put on by MIT’s Technology Review magazine.

One highlight was a lively panel led by Robert Scoble, renowned technology blogger and managing director of FastCompany.tv, about what comes after Web 2.0, as new standards for sharing and interoperability dissolve the traditional notion of the standalone website. These days Internet users are consuming, contributing, swapping, and remixing personalized information in ever-smaller snippets. Open interfaces, for example, mean that the updates you broadcast to your followers on Twitter can be immediately republished on your blog or your FriendFeed page, where your friends can also track everything from what photos you’re uploading to Flickr to what movies you’re renting from Netflix.

Facebook, which was formed here in Cambridge by Mark Zuckerberg, then a Harvard undergrad, is one of the companies doing the most to drive this transition—and Dave Morin, Facebook’s senior platform manager, was one of Scoble’s four panelists. (The others were David Recordon of blogging platform provider Six Apart, Joseph Smarr of Comcast’s Plaxo division, and Nova Spivack, the CEO of Radar Networks and the creator of Twine.) “The first iteration of the Web was all about information—you were excited just to put a Web page up, and it was hard to understand who the people were who were interacting with all those pages,” Morin said during the discussion. “But now the Web is becoming more social. Through open APIs [application programming interfaces] we are exposing not just information but the actions and thoughts of the people using the Web. That’s what we’re driving toward—adding that ‘people’ layer to the Web.”

I had a chance to talk with Morin one-on-one before he went on stage. I asked him to talk about the recent changes Facebook has implemented to make the site even more social—for example, by giving site users easier access to third-party applications and letting them communicate with their Facebook friends even when they’re not logged into Facebook itself. I also asked him to name a few of the third-party applications that he likes best—with a special focus, of course, on those developed by programmers in Xconomy’s home cities.

Xconomy: Talk about some of the new features of the Facebook Platform. What are you doing to make it easier for outside developers to set up shop on Facebook?

Dave Morin: In our recent redesign we included the ability for developers to share information in a more structured way. There is a new feature that we call Publisher up on the top of the wall on everyone’s page. Publisher enables you to add structured data into your feed, and that helps people to understand what’s going on in the world around them. [Specifically: from the Publisher area, users can quickly post status updates, photos, or videos to their profiles, or create tabs that take them directly to third-party applications.---WR]

In addition, one of the innovations we’ve launched recently is called Facebook Connect. It makes this vision of making the Web more social a reality. It enables any site or device outside of Facebook to leverage pieces of Facebook to make these sites more social—including being able to take your Facebook identity with you. Inside Facebook, you’ve built up a lot of data about yourself, and with Facebook Connect you will be able to take that identity with you wherever you go, and bring your friends with you too.

The third thing is that as you move about the Web and as the Web becomes more social, being able to tell your friends what you’re doing is something really powerful. So with Facebook Connect people [back on Facebook] will see the actions you’ve chosen to share from other sites on the Web. It works on the same concept as Facebook applications inside Facebook, except that parties outside Facebook can leverage both the APIs that we already make available and a few new ones.

For example, TheInsider.com is a site that CBS has put together that taps into Facebook Connect. [At this point Morin opened his MacBook Air and brought up the site.---WR] Since I’m already logged into Facebook, you can see that my Facebook profile pic is there, and my real name, and lot of people with accounts here are my friends already. If you scroll down to the bottom and add a comment, then that can be published as a story to your Facebook profile. You can imagine this happening anywhere—on any site where you contribute content or add comments, any blog or news site. If those sites are enabled with Facebook Connect then your friends will know about the interesting things you’re doing on those sites.

X: One observation that’s frequently made about Facebook is that you guys seem to be trying to re-create a lot of the functions that are out there on the Internet, but within the walls of the Facebook.com—so people can have an Internet “experience” without really going out to the rest of the Internet. But Facebook Connect actually seems to be driving in the other direction—taking bits and pieces of Facebook and projecting them out onto the rest of the Web.

DM:
With Facebook Connect we want to enable Facebook users to go anywhere on the Web and take the pieces of Facebook with them that really enhance what they’re doing on those other sites. We know there are a lot of great sites and great businesses doing great things out there, and we know that Facebook users want to … Next Page »

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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