While it's not yet official, TechCrunch reports that Facebook is planning to open source its Facebook Platform, the means by which third-party developers can build applications for the social networking site.
Currently sites who want to become Facebook Platform compatible are required to formally license the code from Facebook. To-date, Bebo is the only social networking site to do so.
What's in it for Facebook?
When Google launched OpenSocial with support from a range of social networking sites -- big and small -- I described it as a ‘combine and conquer strategy’:
[OpenSocial] embraces the “small pieces, loosely joined” philosophy of the web, and in doing so, should help to re-balance third-party developer efforts away from Facebook’s proprietary platform, and back towards the web as the platform.
By open sourcing Facebook Platform it would no longer be proprietary (in terms of licensing) and, like OpenSocial, would have the potential for much wider adoption amongst sites other than Facebook (becoming non-proprietary in practice). This in turn would cement support for the Facebook Platform amongst third-party developers as the return of investment for creating FB-compatible apps increases.
Also see: OpenSocial should be renamed “OpenGadgets”
A second potential benefit of going open source is that outside developers could help to improve the Facebook Platform itself. Although, any additional code or changes made by the open source community would need to be rubber stamped by Facebook before they become incorporated into the official Facebook Platform.
There is, however, a downside to going open for both Facebook and app developers. Since the code can be altered and extended, and the sites that wish to become 'Facebook Platform compatible' will differ greatly in terms of features and architecture, as with OpenSocial, the standard has the potential to become fragmented.
Inevitably, open sourcing Facebook Platform will be seen as fueling the standards war for social applications being led by two camps: Facebook and Google. Instead, one widely supported and open standard, not two, would be in the interests of the industry as a whole.