Monday, October 8, 2007

I'm majoring in Facebook, how about you?

SAN FRANCISCO (Fortune) -- Last Thursday afternoon before the most
hyped class at Stanford University was about to start, instructor B.J.
Fogg and his four teaching assistants attempted to solve this
engineering problem. How do you cram 100 students into a classroom that
only seats 56? Arrange chairs at long tables near the fire exits.

students, though, didn't seem to care if they had to sit on the floor
to take the most popular computer science course this fall quarter: how
to create engaging applications for Facebook.

out steep tuition fees to take a class on the social network of the
moment may seem like a good payoff in the long-term, but few developers
have yet to turn significant profits from writing Facebook
applications. More than 5,000 applications have been created since
Facebook announced in May that third-party developers could build on
its platform, and only four boast more than 1 million users.

who has a background in Web development and experimental psychology,
polled his students on why Facebook is the most important social
network. "Facebook is the most convenient and respectable way to feel
connected to friends, get updated on existing friends, find new people,
build relationships and express identities," he says. "For me, the
interesting part of the class is to do research with a bunch of

Students, however, seem
more interested in cashing out. "I want to build a really cool app and
then sell it for some amount of money," says Jennifer Gee, a
21-year-old computer science graduate student. Classmates nearby nod in

Others question whether a Facebook-specific
curriculum will be useful to future developers. Social networks like
News Corp's MySpace, Google's Orkut and Bebo are all expected to open
their platforms to third-party developers soon. "From an engineering
perspective, learning to build for the social web on just one platform
seems like a short-sighted educational strategy," says Alex Payne, a
developer for San Francisco-based Twitter, a service that lets users
send short text updates that can be posted to a personal webpage
through IM, SMS or blogging tools.

The ten-week course meets
once a week for three hours and requires students to build two Facebook
applications in three-person teams. They will present their creations
to potential investors at the end of the quarter. Thursday's class
begins with an easy trivia quiz. What month and year did the Facebook
platform launch? According to news articles, which company intends to
invest in Facebook? What are the three basic roles that computers play?

"Hopefully it's our last quiz in the class," Fogg says, "but it
depends on performance." At that pace, it's unlikely that students will
learn any secrets that developers don't already know. However, they
will be treated to special guest speakers. About an hour into the
session, Facebook sent a representative from its nearby Palo Alto
offices. "I'm so excited that you're excited," says Ami Vora, a
Facebook platform product marketing rep. "We can't build the entire
user experience ourselves." Vora gave a 30-minute presentation on the
Facebook platform and highlighted the new FB Fund, a $10 million grant
program that provides up to $250,000 to developers building promising

The Stanford students had
just hit the jackpot, and they were definitely interested. An
instructor asked for the main contact for the new FB Fund. Vora said
she was, but declined to give her email address. "Your best bet is to
go through your professors," she says. If a winning application doesn't
pan out, there are still other networking opportunities. Jia Shen, a
co-founder of RockYou, which owns 15 Facebook applications at last
count, teaches a supplementary lab session. Shen says he's keeping his
eye to recruit talented students for potential openings at his company.
"It's definitely going to be a breeding ground," he says.

hours later, the students spill out of Cordura Hall with their first
class assignment -- to create a Facebook application in two weeks.
Computer science major Dave Koslow, 22, won't reveal what he's
planning. However he's optimistic that a Facebook class will make him
more marketable when he graduates. "I'd never take a class on MySpace,"
he says

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