What app developers should do with Facebook's 'like button'

Shane Schick, FierceDeveloperIt might have been more surprising if, instead of offering app developers access to its "like" button, Facebook had provided an API for the "poke" button.

Remember the poke button? Though it was quietly hidden about three years ago, in the early days it was an example of Facebook at its most wonderfully ambiguous. A poke could mean a sort of "hello," or it could be a sort of teasing provocation. It could also be another way of saying "I like you," instead of liking what someone posted in a status update or shared through the service. This may be exactly the spirit with which developers should think about deploying the actual "like" button into their apps and mobile games. 

First announced at its f8 conference back in April, Facebook recently moved forward with its decision to offer tools that will let app users "like" items from within any native app, using the Facebook account your phone is linked to. It's obviously a lot more convenient than moving from within an app to and back to the mobile Web. The company provided some helpful advice in the blog post announcing the line of code that makes it all happen: 

"We recommend testing different locations to determine which leads to the best engagement. It is also important to select locations on the screen that resonate with your existing app experience and user interface. Some apps also show a pop-up dialog with the Like Button at the right moment in the app when people want to engage or share content."

Facebook highlighted examples of mobile games that encourage a "like" after reaching a certain level in the game. That's similar to the kind of advice I've heard about bringing in other elements, such as in-app advertising or the offer of in-app purchases. Obviously, you don't want to overwhelm users at key moments in the experience. In some cases, developers will have to think through whether a "like" on Facebook is worth more than driving potential revenue.  

Although Facebook also floated the idea of encouraging a "like" as soon as someone logs in, I'd also consider the opposite: a "like" at the end of an app or mobile gaming experience. Right now a lot of developers use this moment to ask for a review on an app store. However as Facebook "likes" become a more consistent part of using apps, it could represent a quick and easy form of review that may be nearly as powerful (Facebook says "likes" and shares are seen across close to 10 million Web sites a day). 

I'm hoping some developers get really creative with their implementation of this tool. For example, it would be interesting to see mobile gamers have the chance to "like" a particular character in a game, rather than the entire game itself. Or perhaps those who use news and content sharing apps could let people "like" pieces of content in order to understand preferences better. Sports apps could use "likes" as a form of cheering on or celebrating the achievements of their favorite teams. This is an area ripe for experimentation. Developers may not always know what consumers want, but consumers will be certain to tell them pretty quickly what they like.--Shane