Facebook offers two parts of its platforms for developers, brands, and media publishers to build on. One is the Facebook canvas — the pages on Facebook.com where apps are located — and the other is Facebook Connect, the catch-all name for a variety of ways to integrate Facebook off the site.
We’ve written out a brief guide below for marketers and developers who are thinking about where to build, with advice for specific goals like gaining widespread visibility or directly monetizing users.
Note that while Facebook itself stopped using the “Connect” term in 2010, it’s still commonly used inside and outside the company to refer to non-canvas options, mainly the Graph API and the Open Graph protocol, but also Instant Personalization on third-party websites, “Facebook for Wesbsites”(which are Facebook social plugins), as well as other features, like its single sign-on service for Facebook-integrated mobile apps.
For reference, Facebook Canvas apps are built in HTML iframes on Facebook.com as their own properties or as tabs on Facebook Pages. Connect sites are typically standard websites that have been augmented with Facebook functionality through embedded plugins and calls to Facebook’s APIs.
Canvas Apps are readily accessible to Facebook’s enormous user base, though all their users must have a Facebook account. They can quickly navigate to them via search, through posts mentioning them in their news feed, or through their Facebook bookmarks in the site’s left sidebar Since roughly half of all Facebook users return to the site each day, these bookmarks may receive a lot of impressions.
Canvas apps are not accessible from mobile devices (although some developers create mobile apps that closely pattern themselves after canvas apps). Giving an app extended permissions feels like a more natural part of the Facebook experience when on Canvas. Apps that don’t require any private information or access can instantly use a Facebook user’s public information without requiring any log in or permissions since users are already logged in.
Canvas apps are best for developers looking to target users who likely to already be Facebook users.
Connect Sites don’t require users to have a Facebook account if the app can function without a user’s Facebook information, making them accessible to the entire internet. They can be accessed from mobile devices. Users can use traditional browser bookmarks to find their way back to Connect sites.
Connect Sites are best for sites that would benefit from Facebook information but don’t require it, and that are targeted at demographics that may be less likely to have Facebook accounts, such as seniors and those from developing countries.
Growth and Virality
Canvas Apps have a “built in audience” or can quickly convert Facebook users into their own users. Users may feel more comfortable publishing content to Facebook from Canvas Apps since they’re already on Facebook and in a sharing mindset. When users install a Canvas app, it may generate an App Discovery news feed story, informing their friends of the install and bringing new users to the app. Users can @ mention Canvas apps in their posts.
Connect Sites may have less virality because users are less comfortable sharing off-site actions to Facebook. However, a reputable brand may be able to outweigh this apprehension. Both Canvas and Connect apps can use Facebook’s friend invite system.
Content and Appearance
Canvas Apps must live within Facebook’s user interface, and therefore are somewhat restricted in the overall aesthetic experience they present. In terms of content, it may be more difficult to pull data streams from third-party sites and social networks such as Twitter into Canvas apps. Users are accustomed to rapidly clicking around Facebook and switching from one Page to the next, so Canvas apps are best kept simple and punchy, or should be designed with mechanisms to keep users engaged or frequently revisiting.
Connect Sites have complete freedom over the look of their apps, outside of using the standard Facebook Connect buttons. It’s easy to pull in outside data streams, and sites may have more leeway in terms of showing objectionable content on their Connect site than in a Canvas app. With a less frantic browsing pace than Facebook, Connect works better for content heavy sites where the user may need to do some digging before having the experience they desire.
Canvas Apps can use Facebook Credits as their payment method (and all games must do so as of July 1st, 2011), making payments more accessible, as users may already have a balance of Credits However, Credits come with a 30% tax that goes to Facebook. Non-games can process payments however they want, and do not need to pay Facebook’s tax.
Connect Sites cannot use Facebook Credits, although Facebook has done some off-site testing. Instead the must process payments directly or use an intermediary such as PayPal. Connect games do not have to pay a 30% tax to Facebook. Some users may feel more comfortable entering their payment details outside of Facebook.
Canvas Apps may only use advertising providers that have been approved by Facebook. Facebook’s own ads are shown in the right sidebar, which may clutter a Canvas app’s experience without earning its developer any money.
Connect Sites may use any advertising provider they want, or choose not to show any ads at all. Both Canvas and Connect sites can user Facebook’s social context and Sponsored Stories ad units.
Implementation, Documentation, and Analytics
Canvas Apps have existed for longer, so there are more documentation articles and forum discussions, as well as a more robust developer community available to help guide you. Facebook has also made a commitment to improving communication with Canvas developers, so they may receive more advance notice of changes than Connect developers.
Connect Sites are designed to be easy to create, with many of Facebook’s social plugins only requiring a few code insertions to get running. However, the Connect Platform is younger, so there are less available resources. Both Canvas apps and Connect sites can use Facebook’s native analytics tool Insights to track their growth and traffic.
Conclusion: Canvas for Growth, Connect for Flexibility and More Referrals
Canvas apps hav become a familiar part of the Facebook experience. With sharing seeming natural, several automatic viral distribution channels, and hundreds of millions of users just clicks away, apps looking for rapid growth may be best suited for Facebook Canvas.
“Connect” is quickly becoming a crucial social layer for existing websites, and is also facilitating the creation of new sites that require personal information. Apps with a wide appeal that can function without Facebook information, but that provide the most valuable experience when a user provides their social data are best developed as Facebook Connect sites. Light implementations like the Like button can also serve to boost referral traffic with minimal coding work.
For in-depth information about specific Facebook for Websites products, here are a list of other Facebook Marketing Bible articles. You can access all of them through joining the service, details about which you can find here.
- All About Social Plugins
- Facebook Connect Integration Best Practices From the Platform Showcase
- The Like Button Style Guide: How to Pick the Design That’s Right for Your Website
- How to Choose Open Graph Tags That Maximize the Value of Your Like Buttons
- The Like Button Placement Guide for Websites
- Publishing to Those Who Have Clicked a Like Button on Your Open Graph Website or Application
In addition, check out these articles from Inside Facebook:
- Facebook’s New User Registration Tool for Websites: Implementation Details and Impact
- Facebook’s Comments Box Plugin Filters Website Comment Reels by Relevance
- In Depth: New Facebook CTO Bret Taylor Discusses Platform Governance, Social Gaming, Viral Channels, and Credits Part 1 and Part 2
- Introduction Page Explains Facebook Instant Personalization to Users