Open Facebook

(Disclaimer: The following paragraphs might be pointless and you might end up feeling I have once again stated the obvious. So… you’ve been warned.)

TechCrunch reports on Google apparently working with some unnamed industry bigshots on opening up their social networks services.

Yesterday a select group of fifteen or so industry luminaries attended a highly confidential meeting at Google’s headquarters in Mountain View to discuss the company’s upcoming plans to address the “Facebook issue.” […] Google’s goal – to fight Facebook by being even more open than the Facebook Platform. If Facebook is 98% open, Google wants to be 100%.

Well, we’ll see how that’ll pan out.

I have been discussing the whole Facebook API thing with friends and co- workers over the past few weeks. You are constantly hearing about how cool it is that “Facebook is open”, that everyone can build FB applications and become wealthy and all that jazz, but most people have already figured something out—it isn’t open. It’s a goddamn closed system.

So let’s assume you want to use their rich API set to build the next killer application and get rich in the process. How’s that going to work? Yes, you can build cool stuff. Definitely. It’s just—how are you going to monetize your work? In the end, in my eyes, there are but two types of applications:

  1. Advertisements, i.e. marketing widgets/apps that display links (in different forms, of course), trying to get the user to click through to a non-FB site.
  2. For-fun apps like games or graffiti-wall-alikes, which completely run within the boundaries of FB and never leave them.

And that’s the thing. Either you’re building something that is basically an eye-catcher for your already existing site, not unlike a digital carnival barker, and hope to get attention and visitors coming from Facebook to your site. Or you build something far more complex, inside Facebook, without a viable way to make money from it. Which might cool from a hobbyist point of view, but is crap when you build things for a living. What’s built for Facebook stays in Facebook.

Hendrik noted the other day that if there was some sort of “Facebook points” (akin to Xbox Live Arcade points or Linden Dollars), i.e. micropayments, the situation would be far more interesting for professionals. And he’s right. Alas, there’s no such thing. Too bad.

So, to me, it seems that right now everyone developing real applications within Facebook is an unpaid semi-employee of Facebook.com. If you need to make money on the web to put food on your own table, I don’t think is an option. There is no incentive. So far, Facebook is a purely hobbyist platform. End of story.

I might be completely wrong about this, mind you. But I still don’t understand all the applause and excitement about the prospect of writing Facebook applications. Just saying.