MySpace and Facebook have very different approaches to developing applications for social networks. After Facebook opened its platform to third-party developers in May 2007, an explosion of applications populated the Facebook directory. But there was a problem: many home pages became jammed with spam apps: applications with little usefulness that, in some cases, users didn't even ask to install. Facebook also required developers to use snippets of their proprietary code to run the application.
MySpace has taken a very different approach. Though it just opened its platform to developers this past February, the company's membership in OpenSocial—the Google-led APIs that allow developers to make their application work on multiple social networks—has increased the chances of those applications reaching more outlets on the Web.
CIO recently talked with Jim Benedetto, MySpace's vice president of technology and one of MySpace's original architects. He spoke about how the platform has progressed since its launch, and what he believes is the next frontier for social networks: data portability. He also gave his thoughts on the idea of having more social networking applications that help people do their jobs.
CIO:You launched the platform back in February. What has been the response from the developer community?
Benedetto: A large number of developers have embraced it, and have started using it to build their OpenSocial applications. We're at well over a thousand applications now. OpenSocial is learn once, write anywhere. So as soon as [developers] learn the open social spec, they can write applications for any platform, including ours.
CIO:How have the applications performed? How do you measure their success?
Benedetto: Some of the largest applications have over four million installs. But if you look at platforms historically over the last year, people have been analyzing the success of individual social platforms based on the number of installs that the applications get. They haven't concentrated on the overall utility of the application or the overall engagement of it.
We went a different direction, and we really had strict rules around exposing viral communication channels to individual applications. Other social platforms have given developers the ability to [instruct apps] to, with one click, send a message to 100 of [the user's] friends. That was thought of as a smart move early on because it enabled applications to get like a million installs in three days.
In the end, what we found was that it wasn't necessarily people were installing these apps because they were engaging or that they increased the users' utility on the site; it was more that they were susceptible to SPAM and users were falling for spammy apps. So we've decided that we're going to slowly roll out some of the communication channels on the platform. I think that makes our platform significantly different versus other platforms.
CIO:What things must a successful social networking application be able to do?
Benedetto: The ability for an app to sustain daily use is even more critical to the success of the app and it's also more relevant to how engaging an application actually is, versus overall installs. That's not a number we expose externally, but it's a number we look at internally a lot.
CIO:We see all these playful apps on social networks, and they are a lot of fun. But should there be some development around applications that help us do our jobs better?
Benedetto: I think we'll start to eventually see more utility in the applications that are created. Initially, and because all of these platforms are relatively new, you're weren't seeing an uptake of applications that help people do their jobs better. But platforms grow. Look at the very first applications that were on Windows and Linux, and then look at the ones that were on there today. As the platform matures, and as the individual app developers learn the platform better and iterate over their own development, I think you'll start seeing more applications that are useful for people to do their jobs.
CIO:Social networks were criticized as being "walled gardens"— where you could only view data and information provided a fellow user was on your social network. OpenSocial was viewed as a first step towards solving that, but what else needs to be done?
Benedetto:. The next step, for us, and I think the Internet as a whole, is the ability for users to take the data and content with them outside of each individual island and each individual autonomous website.
For us, that's called data availability. This is the next step in our open strategy. What we're enabling our users to do, and you'll see this in a couple weeks, is we're releasing a set of Open APIs and open source code that's going to allow any third party site to implement MySpace data. It's done over a double opt in. The individual site has to choose to do it, and the individual user has to decide to do it. The user has to say, "Yes, I want to share my data with this site." Doing stuff like this has been technically possible for awhile. But while people were really clamoring for data portability around the internet, you've got to move slow because the privacy and safety of our users is number one for us. So building very granular privacy controls is really the core for data availability.