Only those who've been seriously out of circulation for some time, or are deliberately ignoring Web technology trends, are likely to be in the dark about the social networking phenomenon known as Facebook. Everybody else is busy building, adding to, or amping up their Facebook pages. It may be interesting for many to recognize that the Facebook Developer Toolkit (a CodePlex Open Source .NET project) is behind much of the hoopla.Clarity Consulting developed the original Facebook Developer Toolkit for Microsoft's Visual Studio Express Team. But since then, this tool has not only taken on a life of its own, it's also been incorporated into lots of other tools, including some very nice Web widget and application builders like those available online at widgetbox.com. Visual Studio and .NET do all the heavy lifting behind the scenes, but on the front end, users chunk their way through a series of screen forms to define how widgets look and what kinds of resources they can access and manipulate. Then they tie those widgets to a series of callback, graphics and services URLs that the developer application generates automatically and on the fly.
As an experiment, I created a Web Widget for an RSS-based blog feed and went through the packaging process. The whole operation took less than five minutes and required no special advance knowledge or programming skills. Likewise, turning that widget into a Facebook application also took about five minutes, though I did have to confirm with Widgetbox tech support that things work as advertised only for those who are running the new (beta, as this tip is being written) Facebook profile GUI.
Anybody who's interested in building Web widgets or wants to create applications for Facebook, MySpace, WordPress, Bebo, TypePad and a whole bunch of other social networking sites would be well-advised to check out the Facebook Developer Toolkit and to investigate the great work that Widgetbox has done with this toolset. It's pretty impressive what kinds of expressive power and capability can come from a simple sequence of straightforward screen forms.
Ed Tittel is a writer and trainer whose interests include XML and development topics, along with IT Certification and information security. Email him with comments, questions or suggested topics or tools to review. Cool tools rule!