Live From Facebook F8: Mark Zuckerberg

Posted by: Rob Hof on July 23, 2008

I’ll be doing my best to liveblog from the very crowded, very loud Facebook F8 developers conference in San Francisco. Mark Zuckerberg is due onstage shortly. You can also see a Webcast here. And you can see others liveblogging at this Techmeme link. Also, the press release is here.

This year’s conference no doubt can’t match the electric atmosphere of last year’s, when Zuckerberg announced what has become a new industry of social-network applications running on Facebook and, now, MySpace, Bebo, and many other places. But there’s still a huge amount of energy here, and they’re ready to hear what’s next.

There’s a little analysis along the way, and a summary below, but if you want to skip all the details, here’s the upshot: Facebook’s looking to allow people to spread their information and interests with which they’ve populated their Facebook profile out to other Web sites, by giving those Web sites software tools to tap into that data if users permit. This potentially addresses a key criticism of Facebook and other social networks, which is that they’re walled gardens that lock up people’s data. Marc Canter of Broadband Mechanics, who has been a thought leader (and, being Marc, a voice leader as well) in online identity management, told me it’s enormously promising that Facebook is helping lead the way to social networking that isn’t necessarily locked up inside the social networks themselves.

OK, Zuckerberg’s on. “Hey guys,” he says to many cheers. Says last year Facebook transformed the social graph into an open platform. Big focus this year will be trying to make sure the ecosystem works better, to avoid the mistakes he admits Facebook has made.

He talks about his vacation in Turkey last year (which some bloggers called his “vision quest,” he jokingly notes). He describes a meal he had with a developer in Istanbul and felt he was really present in the moment for the first time in a long time. So now, the company is hoping to help people have a similarly fuller connection with people around them. Don’t gag, he actually said that.

The Facebook mission now: Give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected. Sounds good. “It’s good to help people do good together,” he says. I’m sure he means it, but yeesh. “We want the community and the ecosystem to be aligned with us,” and that’s mostly what he’s going to talk about today.

First, some recap: Now at 90 million in Facebook, from 24 million 14 months ago. About 68% international now, mostly still in English, though in 15 different languages. Today, he’s announcing application translation tools for any language.

Also seen massive growth in the developer community—now 400,000 developers. (Most of them seem to be packed into this sweltering conference center….)

Now he gets to some specific applications. He compares MySpace and iLike and says there are more bands (or did he say band fans?) on music application iLike, which has a Facebook app, than on MySpace. He also compares the Facebook application Causes and Al Gore—more members on Causes. Facebook game application developer Zynga has more daily players than Vegas hotel rooms. OK, he’s having fun.

He talks about News Feed, the most powerful Facebook feed. Traffic went up 50% immediately after the company started it. And it kept shooting up from there. This kind of sharing helped launch iLike to 1 million users within four days.

Now he’s talking about lessons learned, including that Facebook didn’t work hard enough to reward good, useful applications and punish spammy ones. Interesting that he brings up mistakes twice. Anyway, this is a rather long windup to the newly launched Facebook profile page, with its central “Wall” that’s populated with various feeds, whether that’s what people enter on their own or from applications they use. “We want you to really understand what’s going on with that person and you’re really there with them.”

This is also a way to incent developers to create more engaging applications. In particular, Facebook is getting rid of those “annoying” boxes that pop up and ask if you want to add an application. Instead, you’ll be able to browse them but only when you try to use them, then you’ll see a box so you can add it. This is no doubt a good thing for users, but I can imagine many applications that have rocketed to stardom on Facebook through rather spammy means will not be happy.

The next step for these applications is that they’ll be able to run outside on the Internet, not just inside the social network. “We think we’re at a point today when these social applications will decentralize.”

Now he’s talking about Facebook Connect, which he says will help developers build the same kinds of apps around the Web, let people share things across the Web, and control your information around the Web. It sounds like a sort of Open I.D., but it is a Facebook identity that can be transported to other Web sites, with privacy settings on your Facebook profile coming along. A guy from Digg shows how you can digg stuff on its news site using your Facebook login.

David Recordon from Six Apart talks about the company’s Movable Type software (on which this blog runs). Now you’ll be able to comment on Movable Type blogs using your Facebook profile.

Next up is Mike Phillips from CitySearch. You’ll be able to port over your Facebook profile to your CitySearch account. There’s also a My Friends’ Favorite tab where you can see “the most trusted content that there is,” reviews of restaurants or other places from your friends (if you have tasteful friends, or at least friends who lack taste in the same way you do.)

So when will this launch? The new profile is ready today. For Facebook Connect, the developer keys are available today. It will launch for users sometime this fall.

And that’s a wrap for Zuckerberg. Hope I got all that right… if not, let me know.

Now Benjamin Ling, director of platform program management at Facebook, comes on to talk about guiding principles for Facebook apps: They must be meaningful, trustworthy, and well-designed. He goes into detail on meaningful apps, with examples of applications such as Carpool and Graffiti.

Trustworthy: No more antics like requiring you to spam 15 friends to add the application in order for you to use the application. (Cheers, but scattered, not deafening.)

Well-designed: Gotta be fast and not spit out a bunch of errors when too many people use it. “These are aspirational in nature,” Ling says. I guess that means Facebook retains the right to decide which applications don’t measure up.

He goes on to talk about how Facebook will be working more closely with developers. Not a lot of specific I can divine, though there is a “new and improved” developer site that launches today. Also announcing a “Great Apps” program in alpha phase to promote the best apps. The two inaugural apps are Causes, which helps support nonprofit groups, and the music app iLike, as had been rumored before the conference.

There will be a verification program for apps as well. Ling says there will be stringent enforcement to create a “safe and fair ecosystem,” mentioning that Facebook has had to take down 1,000 applications (that many??). There will be “clear principles,” a “transparent process,” and “consistent implementation.”

In other words, it ain’t the Wild Widget West on Facebook anymore, folks. A lot of developers will probably be unhappy with that. But I suspect users won’t mind, and that’s what really matters in the end.

And that’s it for the keynote…. over and out.

Update: My colleague Catherine Holahan thinks Facebook Connect will redefine what a portal is.

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Bloomberg Businessweek writers Peter Burrows, Cliff Edwards, Olga Kharif, Aaron Ricadela, and Douglas MacMillan, dig behind the headlines to analyze what’s really happening throughout the world of technology. Tech Beat covers everything from tech bellwethers like Apple, Google, and Intel and emerging new leaders such as Facebook to new technologies, trends, and controversies.

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