How do you get the army of developers who’ve made apps for Facebook to go to work for you? Emulate Facebook. That’s what Bebo, AOL’s $850 million baby, did last year when it unveiled a clone of Facebook’s own platform.
Judging by the developer crowd at the Bay Area Facebook developers’ meetup last night, that work has paid off. Developers we talked to said porting apps from Facebook to Bebo was a breeze.
But that’s likely to change soon, says Steve Cohen, Bebo’s head of platform engineering. Steve’s worried that Facebook’s upcoming redesign, the one that’s going to limit the spread of new apps, will also make it more difficult to move new Facebook apps to Bebo. So the network has to decide whether it’s going to change its own platform, yet again, to match Facebook’s. If Bebo doesn’t, Cohen says, it’ll lose out:
“Facebook really threw a monkey wrench in the whole compatibility thing….If we’re not compatible with Facebook, no one is going to develop for our platform.”*
Wait a minute: Isn’t Bebo also a member OpenSocial, the Google-led anti-Facebook movement designed to make apps compatible across a range of platforms? Yes, it is. But based on Steve’s comments, and the vibes at last night’s event, there’s still only one platform that matters to app-makers. And the changes Facebook are implementing are going to ripple through the Web.
*Steve Cohen says we’ve mischaracterized his comments. We don’t think we have; they were made in response to the same question, during a Q&A session at the event, and we think we’ve represented what he said accurately. But we’re happy to let him say his piece:
“The context in which my comments were placed in this story completely miss the point I was attempting to make. The first part of my quote talks about what Facebook is doing right now, while the latter came from an explanation of what our motives were when we were initially creating the platform. Bebo has a large, varied and involved developer community and reducing compatibility with Facebook would not change that. While we do place a high value on compatibility and openness, it is not the primary reason developers have been drawn to, and excited by the Bebo platform.”