Facebook aims to be Social OS

Facebook’s platform strategy will be announced today in San Francisco. In discussions with multiple sources involved with the launch, we’ve come to see the platform as a highly ambitious idea, approaching the idea of Facebook being an operating system with other web apps riding on top of it.

Access to Facebook’s highly organized site and highly engaged 20-plus million user base is something at least 40 companies having been madly prepping for, and many more will rush to build widgets of their own in the days after the platform becomes open to the public.

Launch partner companies have been struggling to deal with uncertainty and last-minute changes to the tools and services made available by Facebook, multiple sources have told GigaOM.

Some of the behind-the-scenes stuff makes the young company appear a bit naive; one source said Facebook had said partners were not allowed to use the terms “MySpace” or “social network” in their discussions of the launch.

Despite any hiccups, the partners say they are more than grateful to be included, with one company even telling us it was considering transitioning its current million-plus-user application into being purely a Facebook application.

Until recently, Facebook’s pre-release language to describe adding new partner services to the platform was “install,” with the result being chosen applications being given a permanent place in that user’s Facebook interface. That wording, along with many other things, was changed at some point in the last few weeks. But the big picture “Facebook OS” idea the wording implies is worth noting.

This move is more than catching up with MySpace and Bebo and what have you by adding outside widgets; Facebook has become a primary relationship and identity broker for millions of people. Now outsiders can capitalize on that information in a safe way, pulling from users’ expressed interests in their profiles, building on their stated intention to attend events, or simply giving them more dedicated tools for expressing themselves. The outside apps will be woven into a structure that’s already been built and is utilized every day.

Admittedly, there is some reinventing the wheel going on. Wasn’t the browser declared to be the new OS just, like, two years ago? True, Facebook’s go-it-alone approach often seems over the top – releasing its own Facebook Query Language and developing its own web servers are some recent examples.

But the company is smart, and its decisions – like clinging to a controlled environment when everybody was going on about customizable profile layouts – have generally turned out to be very good. After the kinks get ironed out, including services from around the web on Facebook’s new platform should be a good thing for everyone involved.