Facebook Puts its SaaS Where its Mouth is

fbOpen launches under a CPAL license and, perhaps, sparks a licensing revolution.

Facebook announced on Monday that a large portion of its 3rd party application platform was available as open source.

Since you’re going to ask, we’ll go ahead and tell you: It’s licensed under the Common Public Attribution License (CPAL). My first thought when I saw Facebook was using the CPAL was that their intent was to release a “developer sandbox” and not a project that they expected people to pick up and run with. But that just may be the GPL talking. In the long run the choice of the Common Public Attribution License may be more significant than just making Facebook developer’s lives easier. It may signal a change in how software on the web is distributed.

The CPAL allows you make changes and redistribute those changes as a service, however you must attribute the source (Facebook) regardless of how the software is distributed:

That network deployment, or making modifications available over the network, counts as distribution, which makes the license appropriate for Web services.

Why go with the CPAL and not the GPL? Facebook’s Ami Vora explains:

The CPAL is community-friendly and reflects how software works today by recognizing web services as a major way of distributing software. It also enables you to connect your brand to ours as you make modifications and updates.

SXSW Mark Zuckerberg Keynote – Dancing Erupts3
Source: Brian Solis, www.briansolis.com, bub.blicio.us.

According to Alexa, Facebook is the 7th most popular site on the Internet.1 They claim 400,000 developers have tasted the platform in some way over the past year and that 24,000 social applications2 have been added to directory since the program launched. Regardless of how you feel about the Facebook phenomenon, the company carries significant pull with the up-and-coming developer community. And what we might be seeing with the release of fbOpen is a turning point in the life of software as a service (SaaS).

As we’ve said in the past, the GPL is going to have a difficult time surviving in the world of modern computing. The culture of taking and giving nothing back that is so prevalent in web service environments is going to come to a gradual end. fbOpen is only asking for attribution but it’s an opening salvo by an enormous player that will influence others to follow suit. A new model of computing is rapidly assuming priority in our lives and everyone should expect a new type of licensing to cover it.

1Not the 7th most annoying site (though the case could be made for that ranking’s top slot).

2By “social application” we mean time-wasting game that users can embed in Facebook profile sidebars.

3I’m sorry, dancing? At a keynote?

Comments on "Facebook Puts its SaaS Where its Mouth is"


Note also that Facebook is making code available under the Apache License (2.0), such as Thrift that it has contributed to the Apache Software Foundation (thrift is just beginning incubation there).

Facebook clearly recognise the value of open licences that place fewer restrictions on usage, and I commend them for it.


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