Facebook is friending app developers for a reason

Editor's Corner
Shane Schick

A few weeks ago, I went to an invitation-only event featuring a visit from Vadim Larusik, who manages a program at Facebook to help journalists make better use of its social media platform. He spent the better part of an hour talking about how news sites could use a "like" button, how TV news reporters could upload raw footage to their Facebook account and use their status updates as a sort of online town hall with their audience. We all walked away with a lot of advice about how to generate more activity on our Facebook pages, but not a lot about how to translate that social engagement into traffic or activity on the sites we actually own or need to monetize in some way.

When Facebook made a series of announcements aimed at developers in its Mobile DevCon in New York City two weeks ago, I couldn't help but think I was hearing some of the same things. The big news was that Facebook would be launching an API for Open Graph, which basically helps applications (and users) share stories about what they're doing on Facebook. This was always doable, but not without developers hosting their own Web pages with Open Graph tags on a separate server. A native "share dialog" meanwhile, will let people share their app activity on Facebook without needing to log in first, and a new iOS SDK for Facebook will add other support features.

This is all good stuff--if you want to help Facebook use content about your users' activity to sell ads around. Much like the thinly disguised sales pitch I got from Larusik, everything that Facebook is doing, obviously, is to ensure its platform becomes the predominant locus of mobile users' attention. There's nothing really wrong with that, but the opportunities for third parties to capitalize on that may be somewhat limited. In my case, seeing Facebook chats with Diane Sawyer and her legion of followers wasn't inspiring; it was depressing, because (let's face it) I am never going to be Diane Sawyer. Many of the other examples of successful media activity on Facebook has been breaking news outlets like CNN, but B2B technology content can be a tougher sell on that site.

Similarly, apps may more easily integrate with Facebook in the future, but that doesn't guarantee they'll reap the majority of the benefits. I suspect that the brightest developer stars on Facebook will continue to be those who routinely make the top 10 lists of the major app stores. It's like that old saying that you have to have money to make money--it's easier to become popular on social media if you've already achieved a certain level of fame.

Of course, developers should continue to explore opportunities on Facebook where they make sense. They just need to be mindful that the social media giant is only one tool at their disposal to reach consumers and enhance the app experience. Even with the best integration tools in the world, there may be occasions where Facebook looks and acts much more like a competitor. In other words, sometimes Facebook will be a developer's friend. At other times? Potentially more of a frenemy.--Shane