Facebook wants and needs developers

Peggy Albright

Last week's announcement by Facebook  that it is launching an App Center for distributing social apps is good news for developers. The center not only opens up the vast, untapped Facebook market for mobile apps, but it provides quality controls; innovative business terms; is friendly to iOS and Android; and it gives a big shot in the arm to HTML5. Most developers should find something they like in all of that.

The opportunity to distribute apps to the Facebook community is expressed in powerful numbers. The social network has 900 million users and 488 million of these users access Facebook via their mobile devices. The App Center will become the central place these users go to find apps.

Developers should like the fact that the center is designed to show off high-quality products. Facebook said that the center will prominently display well-designed apps that people enjoy, and apps that receive poor user ratings or don't meet guidelines won't be listed. The process should make the content better and the inventory more manageable, while improving discovery for users. In addition, developers whose apps are initially rejected will be able to modify and resubmit their apps to be listed.

Developers also should like the fact that the center will promote paid apps. While the center will support in-app purchases and developers will receive 70 percent of profits from Facebook Credits spent on their apps, Facebook also will give developers the option to offer paid apps for a flat fee. The company is starting a beta program for the paid app approach and has invited interested developers to join the program.

The cross-platform strategy is an inclusive one. The center will direct requests for iOS and Android apps to the Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) App Store and Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) Play, but developers will need to integrate a Facebook login and APIs to their apps.

The opportunity to distribute apps built with HTML5 is likely to be a very welcome one for many developers. The developer community has been steadily increasing its use of HTML5 to build Web-based applications and the distribution of HTML5-based apps via the App Center creates a marketplace for these apps. While it is still early in the evolution of HTML5, the App Center will help drive an inventory of products and help HTML5 apps gain traction as an alternative to iOS and Android. It also adds a new degree of seriousness to the interest in HTML5 that Mozilla brought to the market earlier this year when it revealed its plans to launch an HTML5-based mobile OS and app store. Facebook's strategy puts new pressure on Mozilla, too, to get its market up and running.

Facebook is encouraging developers to begin filing the forms needed to get listed in the App Center and so their apps can be included when the center launches. Developers can find good motivation to do that: it's well known that joining a developer program early yields advantages such as better visibility for a product and often opportunities to work closely with the principals involved.

Facebook itself could use a lot of mobile developers immediately. The company last week acknowledged in SEC filings related to its IPO that it has not been able to generate any meaningful revenue from the use of the Facebook mobile products it now has. Mobile has become very important to Facebook, and developers may be able to benefit from that.--Peggy