21 July 2007

In Your Face

Has everyone gone Facebook mad? It certainly seems so, and apparently I'm not the only one to think so. But whatever your views of Facebook now, it looks increasingly likely that it's going to be very big.

As I mentioned recently, the first sign that it had aspirations to being more than just another social network was when it opened up its platform. Now, it has underlined the platform aspect by purchasing Parakey.

Who? you might well say. Well, this might give you a hint of why it's an interesting move:

Parakey is intended to be a platform for tools that can manipulate just about anything on your hard drive—e-mail, photos, videos, recipes, calendars. In fact, it looks like a fairly ordinary Web site, which you can edit. You can go online, click through your files and view the contents, even tweak them. You can also check off the stuff you want the rest of the world to be able to see. Others can do so by visiting your Parakey site, just as they would surf anywhere else on the Web. Best of all, the part of Parakey that’s online communicates with the part of Parakey running on your home computer, synchronizing the contents of your Parakey pages with their latest versions on your computer. That means you can do the work of updating your site off-line, too. Friends and relatives—and hackers—do not have direct access to your computer; they’re just visiting a site that reflects only the portion of your stuff that you want them to be able to see.

Interested? You should be.

In explaining Parakey, Ross cuts to the chase. “We all know ­people…who have all this content that they are not publishing stored on their computers,” he says. “We’re trying to persuade them to live their lives online.”

"Live their lives online": well, that explains why Facebook bought the outfit. Among other things, Parakey will let Facebook users twiddle endlessly with their profiles even when they're offline.

Oh, and that "Ross" is Blake Ross, one of the moving forces behind Firefox. Parakey is based on Firefox technology, and will be (partly) open source. Assuming that Facebook keeps those parts open source (and it's hard to see how it could avoid doing so without rewriting the code from scratch), that means that Facebook could well become something of an ally for free software.

Well, I suppose that's a good reason to join the Facebook stampede.

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