I think it’s a bit much to be calling Facebook’s platform the “new social operating system,” but then I guess when your blog is called Knowledge@Wharton you kind of have to pump things up a bit. What I do think has been happening is that more and more companies are treating it as a kind of sandbox for ideas — a place to try out a small feature or even a full-fledged app, to see whether there’s enough response to make it an actual business, or to seed an actual business.
You can see this happening with all kinds of different companies: Alec Saunders is doing a kind of online podcast/conference call to publicize the free-conference-calling app that he and his team at Iotum in Ottawa have put together; my new friend David Gratton from Project Opus in Vancouver has an app called MixxMaker that is a kind of proof-of-concept for a music-sharing technology; and along the same lines, Ian Andrew Bell of Something Simpler in Vancouver recently told me about his app, Pul.se, which is a kind of recommendation engine.
I’m sure there are dozens, if not hundreds, of other examples. As more than one person has pointed out, however, getting so firmly attached to the Facebook economy can be a Catch-22: you start your app there in order to experiment and gain users, but then once you gain enough to make it worthwhile, you are stuck fast to Facebook and it’s hard to end a symbiotic relationship like that. Companies such as iLike eventually decided to hitch their wagon entirely to Facebook and de-emphasize the standalone service. But is that a wise decision?
Pema Hagen, a co-founder of GigPark, mentions in the comments here that they just launched their Facebook app last night. GigPark is a social recommendation engine for goods and services. And this news could make developing apps for Facebook even more appealing: the site is apparently making the F8 platform part of its API, so apps could theoretically be made to run anywhere.