For those of us using (or experimenting with) Facebook, the information shown in the image to the right (click for a larger image) is become rather routine. Yes, indeed:
Facebook users are going crazy adding "applications" to their profiles!
Applications? Huh? In Facebook? It's "just a social networking site", right? So what's with the apps?
Well, it's pretty clear that Facebook has much grander aspirations (see all the links below). Although it was only mentioned briefly in a post to the Facebook blog last Friday, the "Facebook Platform" is now out with full documentation of the APIs and a range of applications already out there (you can also take the "Platform tour"). While people have been building apps for Facebook for quite some time, the big launch was last Friday and this weekend. (This CNN/Fortune story, "Facebook's plan to hook up the world" is probably a good place to start.)
Primarily, the applications seem to allow you to either:
- add content to your "Profile" page inside of Facebook (as I have done with "Elsewhere on the Internet", an app that lets you easily add external links to your profile); or
- interact with some external service (as I have done with the Twitter app, which essentially embeds your Twitter home page inside of Facebook and also puts your latest entry on your Facebook profile)
This alone makes it quite interesting as a way to integrate and distribute applications, but the more intriguing aspect of the "Platform" is that applications have access to the "News Feed" that appears on your own Facebook home page and appears in a similar fashion to your Facebook "friends". There's two elements here of interest:
- Viral distribution - As I note in the image above, whenever a friend installs a new application, you learn about it from your News Feed and can easily click the link to see what the app is. I've done this myself already numerous times, and I've also noticed friends installing an app that I installed in the day or so after I've done so (perhaps because they saw the fact that I installed it in their News Feed). This provides a fantastic "word-of-mouth" type of distribution of apps and introduces you to apps you might not have heard of. 
- Direct access to the News Feed - Whenever someone posts from the Twitter app inside of Facebook, I see it in my News Feed. Thus, the News Feed becomes the merger of all the other Facebook items plus the items from the Facebook application. Now, there are some limits as to the number of times an app can access your feed (so that you don't get flooded), but it's definitely an interesting development.
I think that I will no doubt be writing a great amount more about this Facebook Platform over the coming while. I still have a great concern about the "walled garden" aspect of Facebook and I agree with Jeff Jarvis about the need for the platform to ideally be far more open. But this is certainly an interesting step in the evolution of the site - and it will be quite fascinating to see what emerges.
While I will write more, in the meantime, let me point to some of the articles in the great mass of coverage (or even more here) that I found more interesting (Note, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced all this at Facebook's "F8" conference last week and some coverage is calling the Facebook platform "F8"):
- CNN/Fortune: "Facebook's plan to hook up the world"
- Facebook: "Facebook Platform Launches"
- Mashable: "Facebook F8 Live" (also includes some videos/graphics of some apps) and "30+ Awesome Applications for Facebook" (nice list)
- Tech Crunch: "Facebook Launches Facebook Platform; They are the Anti-MySpace" and "MySpace v. Facebook: 'It's not a Decision. It's an IQ Test"
- Unit Structures: "The Facebook Platform: Analysis" and "The Facebook Platform: Notes"
- GigaOM: "Facebook aims to be Social OS", "Live at the Facebook Launch" and "The Facebook after effect: Pleasure and Pain"
- Jeff Jarvis: "Amazing Facebook"
- Christine Herron: "Facebook Launches f8 and Catalyzes Growth of Social Applications"
- Vecosys: "Working with Facebook f8: you are not in control of your access" (a cautionary tale to read the Facebook Terms of service, which really let Facebook do whatever it wants and change API access any time)
- Drew Meyers: "How Facebook is Completely Changing the Internet"
- Paul Allen: "Prediction: Facebook will be the largest social network in the world"
- Kevin Keating: "10 Thoughts on Facebook"
- Owen Thomas: "The Facebook OS: Just a Pretty Face?" (an opposing viewpoint)
 And yes, that grey line is me using the "spraypaint" in Windows Pain to obscure an entry that is not relevant!
 For instance, I just learned from my News Feed that one of my friends in the hockey-mad world of Ottawa, Canada, just added the "Go Sens Go!" application - although to understand what that is, you would need to understand that here at the end of May when the rest of North America is enjoying the warmth of Spring and Summer, those folks up in Ottawa are still obsessing about a bunch of men sliding around on ice!