Responding to the initial surge of interest among Web startups to create to create customized applications for Facebook, MySpace is hinting that it is gong to pursue a similar platform strategy. In other words, it will open up the database that keeps track of everyone's social connections to outside developers so that they too can build social apps inside MySpace. Now every social network from Bebo to Last.fm is going to try to do the same thing. Jason Kottke and others point out that this is no different than AOL in the 1990s, when outside companies had to develop to AOL's proprietary platform. As Kottke puts it:
What happens when Flickr and LinkedIn and Google and Microsoft and MySpace and YouTube and MetaFilter and Vimeo and Last.fm launch their platforms that you need to develop apps for in some proprietary language that's different for each platform? That gets expensive, time-consuming, and irritating.
As it happens, we already have a platform on which anyone can communicate and collaborate with anyone else, individuals and companies can develop applications which can interoperate with one another through open and freely available tools, protocols, and interfaces. It's called the internet and it's more compelling than AOL was in 1994 and Facebook in 2007. Eventually, someone will come along and turn Facebook inside-out, so that instead of custom applications running on a platform in a walled garden, applications run on the internet, out in the open, and people can tie their social network into it if they want, with privacy controls, access levels, and alter-egos galore.
There's a constant tug between open applications that can go anywhere, like we see with widgets today, and more deeply integrated apps that are cleaner and more consistent within any given Website's environment. That is what Facebook is trying to do with it's platform. There are trade-offs with both approaches.
The battle is not so much the Internet versus proprietary platforms. It's hard to argue that Facebook is as closed a walled garden as AOL was in 1994. But it is still a walled garden of sorts. The bigger the garden, though, the more people that will want to visit it. The question is: How many gardens can you visit? In the end, the platform that is the most open and for which it is easiest to develop cutting-edge features will attract the best gardeners, and more visitors will follow.