Facebook’s savvy move — open up, just a little

As Dave Winer wrote recently, “Facebook *is* opening up.” Of course that means different things to different people. Some would take that to mean that the recently added feature of “Facebook apps,” programs that run inside Facebook but are designed and maintained by outsiders. But the much vaunted Facebook platform, while it may accomplish a lot, still mainly offers trivial, fun applications largely targeted to college students.

No, the opening up that matters is the ability to post outside links as items in the user’s mini-feed (and thus the feed of friends on Facebook) for inputting content, and RSS feeds for getting it out.

How does that work? Well, I have a WordPress plugin on my blog that allows me to post a link to my latest post to Twitter. I also have a Twitter application installed on Facebook that allows me to put every Twitter message in my feed. So without even logging in to Facebook, I can share my photos or blog posts with friends.

This issue is very important to people like me. Why then have a photo blog, you might wonder, and have it link on Facebook when you can just upload your photos directly to Facebook? Because any friends that want to see the photos would then have to get an account at Facebook and log in. The fact that many people use Facebook to share photos is cool–but for me I prefer to use pacificpelican.us, Webshots and Flickr to handle most of my pictures. Certainly I still use Facebook to check on pictures from people I know–and I can’t help but admit it’s fun to get tagged on photos of friends and I can see why many people like the features Facebook offers. But what’s important to me is that Facebook is opening up a little [a very little, really–they are still mostly a walled garden of data] and making it easier to share my data from another web site with my friends.

So data flows into the walled garden, but doesn’t flow out–even if the data is thinner from me (links to images) than it is from friends of mine (images), it is still flowing one way. So that’s where RSS feeds come in. Facebook has made it much easier to get feeds about your friends’ activity as well as your own in RSS format. They can be read in most browsers and in RSS readers. These feeds, while their content links to Facebook pages that require login, at least contain the basic data about what they link to–and they flow out of the site. So, for example, instead of using Twitter to send updates about what you’re doing and letting people subscribe to the feed, you can just use your Facebook status updates and its feed. Of course, I’ve written a bit about these short messaging services and there are lots of alternatives, but Facebook’s accessibility and the ease of updating over my PSP via wi-fi has made it my choice among them at the moment.

It’s a cool start, and it may signal further evolution–Facebook may have realized that they need to open up a bit in order to continue to expand. It was a great move, and they’ve won a lot of geeks over for now.

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