Private social network Facebook to go Web wide

SAN FRANCISCO Thu Jul 24, 2008 1:22pm EDT

1 of 3. Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Facebook, delivers a keynote address at the company's annual conference in San Francisco, California July 23, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Kimberly White

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - The leader of a youth movement that swept the world this past year by encouraging Web users to share bits of their lives with selected friends spoke on Wednesday of spreading his service across the Web, even while apologizing for past excesses.

Mark Zuckerberg, 24, told an audience of 1,000 industry executives, software makers, media -- and his mother and father -- at Facebook's annual conference of how the company's features will run on affiliated sites outside its own.

"Facebook Connect" will transform the social network from a private site where activity occurs entirely within a "walled garden" to a Web-wide phenomenon where software makers, with user permission, can tap member data for use on their sites.

"Facebook Connect is our version of Facebook for the rest of the Web," Zuckerberg told the second annual F8 conference.

Facebook, begun in 2004 as a socializing site for students at Harvard University, has seen its growth zoom to 90 million members from 24 million a little over a year ago, overtaking rival MySpace to become the world's largest social network.

It has lured 400,000 developers to build programs for it since opening up its site in May 2007. Now Facebook is letting designers build software on affiliated sites, for mobile phones or as services that tap desktop applications like Microsoft's Outlook e-mail system. It said that in coming months it would let designers building software for Facebook simultaneously create versions for Apple Inc's iPhone.

"As time goes on, less of this movement is going to be about Facebook and the platform we have created and more about the applications other people have built," Zuckerberg said. "This year, we are going to push for parity between applications on and off Facebook."

In doing so, the social network is positioning itself to play a role similar to what Microsoft Corp has long had for developers within its Windows operating system.

LET'S CHANGE THE WORLD

Zuckerberg, who dropped out of Harvard to run Facebook, is a shy programmer-turned-billionaire with an anything-but-humble vision to make the world a more "transparent" place to live.

Facebook, which encourages members daily to share text and photos, videos, music or other personal information with others in their network, has been translated, largely by its own users, from English into 20 languages since the start of 2008.

Zuckerberg, who grew up in an affluent suburb north of New York City, described the epiphany he had last year while traveling in Istanbul. "A couple of bloggers called it my vision quest, but I called it a vacation," he joked.

Free of his BlackBerry and daily management pressures, Zuckerberg said he got to define some ambitious new goals.

"I want to be able to build a product that allows you to be able to see a person and feel their presence, to have people have more open connections by helping them to share more," he told attendees at the event in San Francisco on Wednesday.

"Facebook's mission ... is to give people the power to share (information) in order to make the world more open and connected. By giving people the power to share, it makes it more transparent," Zuckerberg told the audience.

APOLOGIZING, THEN FORGING AHEAD

Driving the popularity of Facebook has been a wave of more than 24,000 applications from independent software makers that work within site. But last year's rapid growth has come at the cost of frequent abuses by software developers of members' privacy. Company officials admitted that they shut down 1,000 applications for privacy violations in the past year.

Connect marks a new effort by Facebook to expand outside its own site after it retreated from an earlier effort called Beacon that was decried by privacy advocates and which connected member activities inside Facebook to sites outside.

"We took this approach of getting it (Facebook's open software development platform) out as quickly as possible ... We just iterated as fast as we could," Zuckerberg said. "I am also the first to admit we made a lot of mistakes."

Facebook said it is implementing a stringent verification process for developers to reassure users that their private personal information will be securely handled outside Facebook.

In a move that drew complaints from developers who were left out, Facebook named 24 preferred partners it feels have set high standards for respecting users' privacy. Others can apply to participate in Connect in coming weeks, a spokesman said.

Early partners include CBS, Citysearch, CNET, CollegeHumor, Digg, Disney-ABC TV, Evite, Flock, Hulu, Kongregate, Loopt, Plaxo, Radar, Red Bull, Seesmic, Six Apart, Socialthing, StumbleUpon, Twitter, Uber, Vimeo and Xobni.

The push to expand software development efforts across the Web and onto multiple devices comes as Microsoft, the world's biggest software maker, said its top Internet executive had resigned -- the latest blow to its strategy as it seeks to merge with Yahoo and take on Web leader Google Inc.

Microsoft took a small stake in Facebook last October that valued Facebook, a 4-year-old startup with a little more than 500 employees, at $15 billion.

Reuters/Nielsen

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