Over the past decade the explosion of Social Networking sites like Facebook, MySpace and Twitter has drastically changed the way how people interact socially. Social sites are playing a key role in building social graphs, sharing information and fostering innovation. The spectrum of its usability has grown widely since its inception, from users just building profiles and making friends to businesses using it for branding & interacting with their consumers, recruitment firms to find potential employees, science communities for exchange of ideas, non-profits for spreading social good and by students & teachers as a communication tool.This growth in its usability is due the hundreds of millions of active users together spending billions of minutes everyday on these sites building profiles, making status updates, uploading photos and building social graphs making them information rich.
While these sites have built some of the best tools on the world wide web, the opening up of their product to developers via APIs in the past 3 years have spawned “developer ecosystems” that build applications over popular services like Twitter and Facebook that help a person do everything from network with travelers to play social online games. Given below is a brief of 3 Social Networking Developer Ecosystems that would help you to better understand your options.
In late 2008, Facebook announced Facebook Connect that allows developers to let users login to their websites with their Facebook credentials. It even allows other Facebook features, like your friend list and friend invite features to be implemented on your website, which can in turn send data back to Facebook as News Feeds. With over 15K websites already utilizing Facebook Connect, it has now become a must have feature for every social website for 2 main reasons : (1) Users do not have to go through the process of registering on your website if they are a Facebook user, your website can directly pull info from the users Facebook profile and (2) Your web site gets tons of exposure on Facebook as the users actvities on your site get posted to his Facebook profile.
Facebook has even gone a step further in encouraging developers by introducing the fbFund where developers can submit their applications to qualify for investments to grow their venture.
Twitter is one of the best examples of an very Open API and has provided developers a opportunity to build a full-fledged business by using it. Within a short span of time this ecosystem has transformed into a mainstream phenomenon with the development of Twitter apps that do everything from managing your twitter profile to analyzing tweets for real world trends. The Twitter API is nothing but a simple service that provides RESTfull access to the Twitter database and activity streams. Twitter initially started of with the basic authentication by which developers send the users credentials in the header of the HTTP request. But this being insecure and difficult to track hence in early 2009 they integrated the OAuth pattern of integration into the REST API permitting users a seamless experience of login into a 3rd party website using their Twitter account.
Twitter lacks many features in its pursuit of for simplicity and this gives openings to developers to fill the holes. Currently around 80% of Twitter’s usage is via 3rd party apps. and the Twitter API has 10x the traffic of its website. Twitter does not have 300+ million active user but it has momentum, excitement and virility which can cause your application to go from zero to a million users in a matter of days or weeks. Twitter is fast growing and new features are getting added regularly, requiring your application to adapt to it at the same time. A major problem with the Twitter ecosystem is its stability, so you have to make sure that your application doesn’t break and throw heaps of code when the API is down.
MySpace first got into the platform party by teaming with Google and a number of other social networks against the Facebook platform and releasing OpenSocial in November 2007, which were a set of API’s that would make applications interoperable with any social network system that supports it. The patnership spearheaded an initiative to standardize and simplify the development of social applications. Later on in early 2008 MySpace independently launched the MySpace Developer Platform(MDP) that supports the OpenSocial model to enhance the overall experience of users through the development of Social Applications.
MySpace has undertaken a recent expansion of their platform through the MySpaceID project. MySpaceID provides Developers the opportunity to access user identities within the context of third-party environments. The main components of the MySpace platform are pretty similar to that of Facebook, but since MySpace supports the OpenSocial model the same application can be ported to any other social network with just a few minor tweaks to the code. With just around 15k apps in the MySpace apps Gallery and just a few websites integrating with MySpaceID, the Facebook ecosytem emerges as the clear winner in this case.
No doubt that these 3 ecosystems are the best and most established but they aren’t the only ones. Networks like Bebo, Yahoo, Friendster and the recently launched Google Wave have opened up their set of API’s that would allow you to reach millions of users through your applications. All these platforms are fast-growing and frequently-changing for the good, so as a developer even though you have a lot of choice with the ecosystems, it is suggested that you pick one ecosystem that you are a big fan of and program for it as keeping pace with all the ecosystems would be a real challenging task.
- Royston Olivera