Facebook released significant improvements to its Platform developer toolset this morning with the introduction of the Graph API Explorer and a new version of the Developer app. The Graph API Explorer lets developers make and test API calls and see formatted results in-line, preview extended permissions dialogs, explore connections between objects, and more. The enhanced Developer app allows for quick access to apps, important app info, Getting Started guides, and roles management.
These changes should make the Facebook Platform more inviting to new developers, while streamlining workflow for veterans, especially those administrating multiple apps.
Graph API Explorer
Before the launch of the Graph API Explorer, it could be a bit difficult for developers to get their bearings in Facebook’s programmatic interface. They could turn to third-party API testing consoles such as Apigee, or sort through documentation and forums, but the Graph API Explorer offers an official, more visually-oriented introduction to building on the Graph API.
When developers visit the Graph API Explorer, they’ll first see a GET call for their personal ID. From there they can click links to view an object’s connections, and view detailed descriptions of various fields. The ability to click instead of type to explore connections between objects makes the interface especially easy for new developers.
User data, friends data, and extended permissions access tokens can be generated to view private data and test APIs, and developers see the same permissions dialog their users would see. Developers can switch between different Graph API URLs and between GET, POST, and DELETE to both experiment and actually make changes. IDs in the formatted results returned by calls can be clicked to quickly navigate to details of that object.
The Explorer can’t currently be used to create or test with designated test users, but Facebook may add some of this functionality in the future. In the comments of the announcement blog post, Facebook’s Namita Gupta explains that photo uploading also can’t be tested with the Graph API Explorer as there is “no way to support multipart/form-data in the parameters but we are working on this.” Overall, though, the developer response to the tool has been positive so far.
The Graph API Explorer could help increase self-reliance amongst Platform developers by allowing them to more easily test their way through than seek help from their peers. This could also reduce the incidence support requests to Facebook’s Platform team and erroneous bug reports. The ability to share a permalink to one’s current view of the Graph API Explorer, as one can from Apigee’s console, could make the development process more social by letting developers show their problems to others and receive advice.
Streamlined Developer App
The design of the Developer app, which allows developers to create new apps and manage settings of their existing ones, has stayed mostly stable since 2009. As Facebook app development became more of a business with developers controlling multiple apps and needing to manage large teams with various roles, the original decline became clunky. It also didn’t properly serve as a portal to documentation that could help new developers.
The redesigned Developer app begins a full roll out today starting with a limited set of developers. Its dashboard displays one’s most recently viewed apps, and developers can search using a typeahead to go directly to a desired app. Selecting an apps brings up important information about it including its app ID, app secret, and various URLs. Facebook also says that it has “reorganized the sections within the Developer App to reduce redundant fields.”
Getting Started guides to apps on Facebook, mobile, and websites can be accessed from a navigation menu. Facebook has simplified the process of assigning and managing administrator, developer, tester, and Insights user roles. Speed has also been increased and workflow improved by “eliminating inefficient operations and data fetches.”
While none of this functionality is actually new, the condensed architecture of the app should promote faster navigation, allowing developers to focus on building their apps rather than the process of managing their settings. The release of these new developer tools should serve to improve Facebook’s standing with the developer community. This is especially convenient considering the recent complaints of unfair treatment by some developers whose apps were suddenly disabled last week when Facebook modified its auto-enforcement system to be more aggressive.