MG Siegler must have some good friends at Facebook HQ. In the span of a few hours on Wednesday evening, the TechCrunch blogger posted "Behold: Facebook's secret photo sharing app" and a "Project Spartan: Facebook's hush-hush plan to take on Apple." Those kinds of headlines lure in readers like candy carrots on short sticks. The stories predictably topped TechCrunch's Most Popular box not long after posting, and any blogger could tell you why: people love reading about leaks, and they love reading about Facebook. If there's anything they might love more, it's reading about Facebook leaks. Naturally.
"Project Spartan" illustrates well how Facebook's chatty product team is actually a rather underhanded and potentially fantastic PR strategy. Basically, Spartan is a strategy to develop a Facebook version of Apple's App Store that will skirt around the restrictive rules imposed on developers by Steve Jobs. The new platform will work entirely within the mobile browser and applications supposedly already in production by companies like Zynga and The Huffington Post. What's in it for Facebook? A share of the estimated $16 billion, users are spending in the iPhone app store. It's next level stuff that makes Facebook's virtual currency suddenly super viable:
Imagine loading up the mobile web version of Facebook and finding a drop-down for a new type of app. Clicking on one of the apps loads it (from whatever server it’s on depending on the app-maker), and immediately a Facebook wrapper is brought in to surround the app. This wrapper will give the app some basic Facebook functionality, as well as the ability to use key Facebook elements — like Credits.
Whether from friends of Siegler or terrific tipsters for TechCrunch, the leaks position Facebook's product development process squarely in opposition to the social network's newest target: Apple. Rumors that Facebook would be breaking into the mobile phone market started last year when TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington reported that a source, likely within Facebook, described a top secret phone project. At first, everyone thought Facebook was building an actual phone, but it soon became clear that it was some sort of operating system. Siegler's scoop on Project Spartan is almost definitely the same thing, now buoyed by months of bloggers teasing out details and speculating over what a gamechanger Facebook could be in the mobile market.