At the Forge - Working with Facebook
Facebook has provided application developers with a rich and interesting API that goes far beyond retrieving and storing data. It allows us to create applications that truly do sit within Facebook. Next month, we'll look at how we can have a Facebook application that stores its own data and integrates that data along with the user's Facebook profile.
Facebook developer information is at developers.facebook.com. This includes documentation, a wiki and many code examples. One article on the wiki specifically addresses Ruby development: wiki.developers.facebook.com/index.php/Using_Ruby_on_Rails_with_Facebook_Platform.
Ruby on Rails can be downloaded from rubyonrails.com. Of course, Rails is written in the Ruby language, which is almost certainly included in your distribution, and it also can be downloaded from www.ruby-lang.org.
The RFacebook gem for Ruby and the companion RFacebook plugin for Rails developers can be retrieved from rfacebook.rubyforge.org.
Hpricot, written by the prolific Ruby programmer “why the lucky stiff”, is at code.whytheluckystiff.net/hpricot. I have found it to be useful in many Ruby programs I've written, but it is especially useful in the context of RFacebook, given the central role of XML and the Facepricot extension.
Chad Fowler, a well-known Ruby developer, has developed a different Rails plugin (Facebooker) for working with Facebook. You can download the code, as well as learn more about the design principles behind his plugin, at www.chadfowler.com/2007/9/5/writing-apis-to-wrap-apis.
Finally, O'Reilly Media published a 30-page report in October 2007 describing the Facebook application platform. The report is meant for managers and marketing people, but even programmers can learn something from this (admittedly expensive) report, which describes the number of applications that have been deployed, as well as the types of things people are doing. Programmers won't learn enough from this for it to be worth buying, but it might well be worth finding and reading a copy that a more business-oriented friend has bought.
Reuven M. Lerner, a longtime Web/database developer and consultant, is a PhD candidate in learning sciences at Northwestern University, studying on-line learning communities. He recently returned (with his wife and three children) to their home in Modi'in, Israel, after four years in the Chicago area.
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