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Hot on the Web

Facebook's widgets push MySpace

This column originally ran in ComputorEdge on November 23, 2007
(Issue 2547, Savvy Seniors)

Adding to the argument made in this space a few weeks back that market dominance rarely lasts forever, – the No. 1 social networking Web site in the world – recently signed a deal with Google to use Google's new open-source Web application standard.

MySpace had initially resisted Google's overtures to adopt its OpenSocial standard, according to news reports.

But the recent stunning growth of competing social network site – which has added thousands of online applications in just the past few months, and has been growing by leaps and bounds this year – apparently got MySpace to wondering what Facebook was doing so well, and what MySpace might do to counter that.

What Facebook has done so well is to integrate add-on features, called "applications," fully into its environment. These applications – which range from a Scrabble game you can play online with friends to the popular SuperPoke that lets you throw sheep at your friends – are as integral a part of the Facebook experience as finding new bands is to MySpace's.

Google's OpenSocial initiative promises portability – write your application once, and you can then place it on any Web site that supports the OpenSocial standard.

With MySpace and British social networking site Bebo now signed on to OpenSocial, bloggers have been frothing at the mouth at how this spells the end for Facebook's rapid growth.

Facebook, on the other hand, uses a private, proprietary standard for its applications (which really amount to nothing more than widgets).

But even with a non-open standard, Facebook has everyone and anyone writing applications – from hobbyists to businesses trying to leverage a popular application into a guerrilla marketing campaign.

Or even a way to generate old-fashioned advertising dollars.

The popular ones

While your loyal correspondent had had a Facebook account for a year or so, it was only when his younger sister challenged him to a game of Scrabulous – basically a knock-off of Scrabble – that he became a Facebook regular.

And while Scrabulous is undoubtedly popular, at least in my circle of friends, everyone seems to be using SuperPoke.

Facebook contains a built-in "poke" feature that lets you send a "poke" to anyone whose profile you are viewing. It's basically a poke in the shoulder you might give in a crowded room to say hi to a friend.

SuperPoke, on the other hand, gives you a variety of actions, from a wink to a hug to a high-five.

And as you send more SuperPokes, you unlock additional actions – from throwing a sheep to some that are, well, at least R-rated.

Whenever you use SuperPoke, you see a large plug at the top of the page telling you that SuperPoke was developed by

While there is no hotlink directly to the site, opening a new tab in your browser and typing in "" isn't exactly rocket science. (And it turns out that is a photo-hosting service with lots of add-on features, primarily built around online slide shows of your pictures.)

The business model

According to a November issue article on, Facebook allows application creators to insert their own ads into the application panel – and keep any revenue they make off it! According to this article, may generate up to $1 in advertising from SuperPoke this year.

Not bad for a text- and icon-based little widget that lets you throw sheep at your friends or give them candy corn.

The end result

Even with Google and MySpace joining forces, it's not clear how MySpace is going to immediately blunt the recent success of Facebook – no matter what the bloggers say.

As mentioned, the widgets are an organic, integral part of the Facebook experience. MySpace, on the other hand, was designed and built around finding new bands and sharing music with your friends. It's very good at that.

To be honest, Facebook doesn't even do a very good job of letting you find your friends. For instance, I can't join the San Diego State University network on Facebook because I don't have an e-mail account. And so trying to track down my friends from college has been pretty hit or miss.

On MySpace, once I entered my schools information, I was automatically added to the SDSU group – and regularly check the alumni list from the early '80s to find friends.

Nor does Facebook have a way of connecting with former colleagues the way LinkedIn does.

So Facebook isn't perfect, nor omnipotent.

But it does have Scrabulous, and if one more blogger says Facebook is doomed by the MySpace-Google-Bebo alliance, I'll throw a sheep at them.