July 24, 2008-- SAN FRANCISCO -- Facebook, the rapidly growing social network, unveiled some new features on Wednesday as it works to broaden its reach online and to recalibrate its sometimes contentious relationship with the thousands of developers writing programs for the service.
In a speech at his company's annual conference for developers, called F8, Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook's 24-year-old chief executive, also demonstrated the company's new design. He predicted that there would soon be a wave of social Web sites built on top of the information users give to social networks.
"We are going to see the big social networks start to decentralize into a series of social applications across the Web," Mr. Zuckerberg said. "I think we are at the beginning of a movement and the beginning of an industry."
To carve out a piece of that future, the company announced Facebook Connect, a way that other Web sites can integrate parts of Facebook's service. Web sites can ask users for their Facebook user name and password, instead of creating an identity verification system themselves, and offer their users the ability to import their list of friends from Facebook.
For example, the mobile service company Loopt, based in Mountain View, Calif., helps people find their friends and see what they are doing on a map on their mobile phone. It will use Facebook Connect so its users do not have to re-enter their connections to the friends they want to track.
"Recreating the social graph and helping people identify who their friends are is never something we wanted to do," said Evan Tana, director of product management at Loopt. "This makes our lives a lot easier."
Sites including Google and MySpace have introduced similar systems for confirming users’ identities.
Facebook Connect is a two-way highway -- information about a user's activity on those other Web sites also travels back and appears on the "news feed" on Facebook, where it is seen by that person's friends on the service. But Mr. Zuckerberg said users could strictly control what they share, jokingly referring to last year’s controversial Beacon advertising program, which was viewed as being overly invasive.
"We paid a lot of attention to making sure that people have complete control over what is in their feed," he said. "We learned from last time."
Mr. Zuckerberg also reflected on the 15 months since Facebook opened up its site to outside companies and invited them to build profitable features for it.
The move was generally seen as smart and somewhat momentous inside the tech world. Facebook says 400,000 developers have worked on tools for the site, and other companies, including Google and Microsoft, have sought to create their own competing open systems.
But Facebook's platform has also generated its share of controversy. Many trivial applications have clogged the site, and sought to spread themselves among users using a variety of tricks. Frustrated, Facebook has tried to counter that and put more emphasis on significant and trustworthy applications.
"As happy as I am with the growth of the ecosystem, there are a lot of mistakes we made," Mr. Zuckerberg said. "I think we can all agree that we don't want an ecosystem full of applications that are just trying to spread themselves."
To that end, Facebook announced a series of new incentives for developers to write what it characterized as "meaningful" tools for the service. It said it would pick certain applications that meet a set of Facebook principles to be part of a new "Great Apps" program.