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Facebook, the mainstream media web darling du jour, has opened up its development platform to allow other firms to develop applications to run on top of the site, broadening the range of features available to users.

The news should allow the network's 23 million claimed monthly visitors to integrate their profile with other online services, which until now had competed with Facebook. It represents a challenge to the tight control that rival MySpace exerts over its network.

Social networking wunderkind and CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced the move at the Facebook F8 [geddit?] event in San Francisco yesterday, and invited an audience of developers to create new toys for Facebook Platform. He unleashed the following nonsense: "With this evolution of Facebook Platform, any developer worldwide can build full social applications on top of the social graph, inside of Facebook."

The announcement casts Facebook as a kind of social networking operating system, open to third parties. The policy is in contrast to Murdoch-owned MySpace, which has blocked outside embeddable features from popular photo-sharing dump PhotoBucket, among others, angering users. Zuckerberg said: "Until now, social networks have been closed platforms. Today, we're going to end that."

Facebook Platform contributors, who will include PhotoBucket, Microsoft, and the Washington Post, will build applications that users can add to their profile. A total of 85 new features were unveiled at F8. Developers will only be able to sell advertising on their Facebook homepage, not on the embedded applications.

As well as access to the Facebook API, which has been available since last summer, the site will offer developers a new markup language creatively dubbed Facebook Markup.

According to reports, the 750-strong audience of social networking acolytes at F8 lapped up the announcements. ®

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