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Facebook's Platform

Facebook's Platform

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Published by tech2click

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Published by: tech2click on Feb 24, 2009
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05/10/2014

 
Permission to make digital or hard copies of all or part of this work for personal or classroom use is granted without feeprovided that copies are not made or distributed for profit or commercial advantage and that copies bear this notice and the fullcitation on the first page. To copy otherwise, to republish, to post on servers or to redistribute to lists, requires prior specificpermission.The First Mini-Conference in Web Technologies and Trends (WTT) © 2009 Information Technology Department, CCIS, King Saud University, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
F
ACEBOOK
:
 
S
EEKING AN
U
NDERSTANDING
I
NTO
T
HE
P
LATFORM
 
Nadeen Ahmed Al-AbdullatifIT, KSUKSU, RiyadhSaudi Arabianalabdullatif@student.ksu.edu.sa
A
BSTRACT
 
This paper seeks to understand the Facebook Platform by outlining some of the technologies and capabilities that are used to make all its different parts function. In order to arrive at a better appreciation of Facebook, I will discuss how it has grown to be the number one accessed social network on the Web.Moreover, I will delve into the specifics of what the various parts of the Platform do, and how these components work together to allow developers to create rich applications that build upon the social networking features that Facebook provides.
 
Keywords
Zuckerberg, Facebook, Platform.
 
1.
 
I
NTRODUCTION
 
Originally designed by Mark Zuckerberg for college students in 2004, Facebook has become one of themost important social networking sites for people of all ages. In May 2007, Facebook expanded its servicesby launching its own Platform for application development. This means that in addition to providing its ownservices and content to its users, Facebook allows other developers and communities to extend its socialfeatures and reach. Whereas a social network focuses on connecting and building online social networks forfriends who share interests and activities, or who are curious to know the interests and activities of others, asocial platform goes further than that. It lets developers create external applications that give Facebookusers the chance to interact with one another in ways never before imagined [7, 8, 9].For a better understanding of Facebook and its Platform I will first discuss what Facebook means. After, Iwill highlight the services that Facebook offers to both its users and application developers. Then, I willexplain what the Facebook Platform actually means in terms of its impact on users and developers. I willalso discuss the technical aspect that comprises the Facebook Platform. Finally, I will show a few examplesof some prominent Facebook applications.
2.
 
W
HAT IS
F
ACEBOOK
?
Facebook has become one of the most important social networking sites. Students continued to use theservice after graduation, turning Facebook into a social network for young people in general. Soon people ofall ages, ranging from 12
 –
90 became members [3, 8].
 
Behind Facebook’s complex technology are millions of real people with millions of real relationships. They all
want to be able to communicate in a variety of ways and be able to add new friends, join groups and shareinformation. This form of communication is not restricted by geography or time
the very factors thatseparate and alienate people from one another. Therefore, as a social network, Facebook not only offers itssubscribers people who share interests and activities, but a constantly growing community of friends.
 
Withinthis environment where user subscription is perpetually increasing, the adoption of new Facebookapplications is rapidly spread, because every time someone adds an application, that news can betransmitted to friends automatically, and they have the choice to add the application themselves. Much of
 
 the enthusiasm about Facebook applications comes from their swift spread and use by thousands of peoplewithin a short time [4].
 
The popularity of Facebook was made even greater with the development and release of the ApplicationProgramming Interface (API). Facebook applications are significant to the people using Facebook. Thesignificance may be experiencing enjoyment, acquiring information, or benefiting from the services. Theapplications developers may or may not be in search of profit for what they are offering. In May 2007, userparticipation on Facebook reached new heights with the launch of Facebook
’s
Platform
. With the Platform’s
release came fresh ideas and immense interest to not only the users of Facebook, but to the industry as awhole [4, 8].
 
3.
 
F
ACEBOOK
S
ERVICES
 
Facebook provides its users with numerous services that comprise its core functions. The FacebookPlatform offers third-parties most of these services along with the information they contain [4, 8, 10]. Theyare:1.
 
The Social Graph
The Social Graph is a phrase that Facebook uses to describe the network oftheir users. It illustrates the totality of human connectedness to create the ultimate relationshipengine. Known as
―social network analysis,‖ the basic idea is that we are all bound together by a
web of relationships. Some of the ties are direct and strong while others are tenuous and weak: if Iknow you and you know Sara, then theoretically I am connected to Sara. It is the six degrees ofseparation concept where everyone is connected to everyone else however distantly. Now imaginea diagram of all those interpersonal connections
that is the Social Graph.2.
 
User Profiles
Information about users can be obtained through their pages. Depending on theprivacy settings, these pages, that include user-generated content and information gathered fromthe social graph, are available to other users. Within these pages are the various ways userscommunicate with one another through message links and a profile Wall from which users postmessages to each other.3.
 
Messaging
Messaging refers to messages sent between users and general announcements.4.
 
Pages
Facebook Pages are among the many features of Facebook. Pages are a way to design aprofile for not only a business, music band, or celebrity, but anything you can imagine. These pagesare overseen and modified by one or more Facebook users. A Facebook Page gives Facebook
users the chance to interact with the page’s subject by becoming a
fan or by using the messageboard.5.
 
Information
 
Aggregates
The immense scale of data available on Facebook makes it necessaryto implement a system that sorts the
information according to the user’s interests. This is achieved
through information aggregates like the News Feed or Mini-Feed, or the user profile pages.
4.
 
W
HAT IS THE
F
ACEBOOK
P
LATFORM
?
The word Platform is used to describe a variety of things. For instance, railway stations have platforms forpassengers to embark on and disembark off trains, there are large structures on the ocean bed used forextracting oil called oil platforms, and there are even platform shoes for women who want added height!
 
Facebook also has its own Platform launched in 2007, appropriately titled the Facebook Platform. But it is anentirely different platform from those mentioned above
it is not one that you put on your feet but rather aframework on which applications may be run. As defined by Facebook developers the Facebook Platform is
a standards-based Web service with methods for accessing and contributing Facebook data
[5]. Thisservice is what enables anyone with the desire to create an application to interact and integrate with coreFacebook services.It is only natural that something that is successful would evolve and progress to the next level. For Facebookthat next level is the creation of a Platform. Although Facebook achieved widespread fame because of itsclearly defined structure and social network, it is its Facebook Platform that is giving the company lasting
popularity and establishing the company’s potential longevity. Because of third
-party applications, Facebooknow offers an important reason for users to invest themselves in Facebook.com in ways that they could
 
 never do before with other social networking sites like MySpace [7]. In fact, as soon as the Platform wasreleased, it did not take long before users began to see thousands and thousands of Facebook-inspiredapplications from all kinds of developers ranging from major corporations to hobbyists working from theirhomes. Users were given the opportunity to interact in new and exciting ways. For example, within just fourdays of launching the developer
’s platform, a company called iL
ike built a music application that had onemillion users! [4, 5]
Competitors, too, have taken notice of Facebook’s Platform. Soon after its launch, two of Facebook’s major rivals were announcing their plans to get underway with similar Platforms
[11].
 
With the release of its Platform, Facebook quickly became one of the top social network web sites with morethan 120 million users as of December 2008
1
. Whereas MySpace and Friendster had been the sites to visitfor online social interaction, Facebook has surpassed them to become the fastest growing social networkingsite. It was ranked in the top 10 most visited web sites in the summer of 2008, and its users are no longerlimited to American university students, but are people of various ages from various countries. As reportedby Facebook, more than 50% of subscribers log in daily and spend an average of 19 minutes a day on thesite. According to Alexa, Facebook is the number one accessed social network in Saudi Arabia [1, 4].
 
5.
 
W
HAT IS A
F
ACEBOOK
A
PPLICATION
?
Applications on Facebook are the main features that turn Facebook into a social platform. They greatlyaffect the users and, as the platform continues to expand, they will play an important role in the progress ofFacebook as a whole. Applications are tools that enable our interactions with family and friends. Even smallbusinesses are learning that instead of creating an independent social networking site, it is far lesscomplicated and more efficient to just plug in to an existing platform like Facebook. The applications offeredgive users the chance to move from using web sites to using web operating systems [7].
6.
 
B
ASIC
A
PPLICATION
A
RCHITECTURE
 
Third-
party applications do not live on the Facebook’s server. Rather, they are hosted on an external server 
(u
sually the developer’s server). These applications are called by Facebook when a user requests a certain
application. When developers configure their applications, they provide a Canvas Page URL and a CallbackURL. The former is the address where the application lives on Facebook, and the latter is where theapplication is hosted on the external server [5].Briefly, this is how the application process works: a user makes an HTTP request to the Facebook serverthrough the Canvas Page URL; the Facebook server in return sends out an HTTP request to the
application’s server based on the Callback URL provided; then, the application calls out Facebook’s APIs or 
submits query statements, depending on whether the user uses API methods or Facebook Query Language(FQL) to access data. After all the data needed has been accessed, the application server returns FacebookMarkup Language (FBML) to the Facebook server that in turn processes FBML and converts it to HTML.Finally, the output is rendered on a browser (see Figure 1) [5].
Figure 1. Facebook Application Architecture
 
7.
 
T
HE
C
OMPONENTS OF THE
F
ACEBOOK
P
LATFORM
 
As all large web services have a multitude of moving components, it is vital that we understand how theyeach come together to form the Facebook Platform. By implementing the platform model, Facebook has
1
 
This fact was reported on FOX News in December 2008.
 

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