Our Complete Rundown of Facebook’s Massive Platform Changes

photoFor weeks now, we and other publications have been seeing screenshots and hearing rumors about big changes that Facebook has planned for its platform. What the company changes will fundamentally impact how applications live or die on the site. Will the company change how developers notify users about their friends’ activities in apps, for example? How will apps be affected by the ongoing evolution of Facebook’s home page news feed? We’re about to find out.

Note: Facebook’s developer materials are here.

We’re live at Facebook headquarters for a big event the company has planned, what it is calling a “roadmap” for the platform going forward. We’ll be live-blogging all of it. Or, you can watch it yourself, here.

Mark Zuckerberg has taken the stage, here are paraphrased notes. “The platform is probably the fastest-growing part of user engagement. Its is a key part of our strategy, along with Connect.” Zuckerberg Introduces platform team leaders, including FriendFeed cofounder Bret Taylor, who is leading product for the platform now.

“The roadmap is another step in increasing transparency,” with the intention to help developers plan ahead.

Ethan Beard is now on. He’s heading up the platform. “You guys are really kicking butt,” he tells the room full of developers. He shares some stats — 3 out of the top 10 iPhone apps are now using Connect, for example.

“I’ve been reading in the press, a lot of anxiety about what we’re about to announce. Our goal is to reduce the anxiety, not increase it. The death of platform is greatly exaggerated.” Today, Beard says, “We’ll provide you a lot more predictability.”

As the platform and your apps become more complicated, developer roadmaps go further into the future… 12 months, 18 months. “We’re taking a look at everything happening in Facebook — we’re moving very fast.”

Order of business today:

1. Communication Channels

2. Discover and Engagement

3. New Products and Programs

Caveat: These are mockups of things up to 6 months out, to give you some direction. These decisions have not been made. No new product announcements today. This is the start of a conversation, but also going on in public about best way to build platform.

1. Communication Channels:

New users get confused. New developers get confused by all the options.

A) Broadcast style communication – This takes place in the stream today, will probably always be the most logical place.

B) User to user communication – Today this takes the form of requests and notifications, but these are getting consolidated into the inbox, so that users will have a single point of access to all user-to-user messages. It’s not clear what these messages are going to be called yet. Notifications are going away for platform applications, but Facebook notifications will still exist. “People whose name starts with A gets most invites because that’s what appears in multi-friend selector. It’d be great to show me all friends who play Scrabble, not just ones on top of list. We’ll be investing in improving this. If we can raise fidelity, it will make users happy.”

C) Application to user communication – Developers say “there’s no direct way to contact users; Facebook is in the middle of everything.” Facebook is creating a new feature that will allow users to give a verified, up to date email address to developers. This will give developers a direct channel that they control to get messages in front of users. No longer a question of who owns the user. Connect will also get this.

2. Discovery and Engagement

We hear that users struggle to find applications. “We know where the apps are, but users don’t.”

A) We’re moving bottom toolbar to left-hand side of page. Adding a  new “Counter” API for developers. This is a new indicator that will appear next to application bookmarks that indicates how many activities the user needs to take inside that application. Intended to be used for application specific functionality.

B) New application dashboard, including a special “games” dashboard. These are new dedicated spaces for all of a user’s application activity. Looks like it will replace the app directory. The games dashboard will include just games. Focus is on exposing users to apps they’re currently engaged in and helping them discover new apps. It’s not yet clear how users will access these dashboards.

C) Better canvas pages for developers. Changes to top-level navigation. Show that page belongs to you. You can change color or remove top-level navigation.

3. New Products and Programs

A) Launching new developer web site at developers.facebook.com. Re-writing documentation, how-to guides to foster better collaboration. A new roadmap page is also launching. Also a platform “live status.” To show if the problem is on Facebook’s side, not the developers side. Also prioritized bug list: Which ones we’re going to solve and which ones you’ll be working around.

B) Policies have grown. Have grown around new situations. Increasingly complex: “No one actually knows all policies. My goal is that everyone at your company knows all of our policies. It should be easy to understand what our policies are.” Creating a set of principles that are easy to understand and remember. “We’ll be putting these online today as well. When in doubt, you should be able to think through and know — we think it’s important that developers understand spirit of policies. We’ve completely re-written them from ground up. Reduced from 14 to 3 pages.” Screenshots of best practices and policy violations, and will update with new ones as they are discovered.

C) Enforcement. “Quality of apps that go through verification are significantly higher than those that haven’t. We want to make sure the whole experience is great. We’r ending verification program as standalone program, expanding enforcement. Still free to use, proactively checking apps above non-trivial size, work with them to fix problems before they can grow larger — this is a big expansion for us, and it shows our commitment.”

D) Updated Insights dashboard and new analytics APIs.Better understanding of what’s going on inside my application. We’re improving this tool, to give you a much better understanding. This will be a more graphical version of the application Insights dashboard, which Facebook hasn’t really kept up to date over the years. Facebook will also expose the data from Insights via new analytics APIs so that developers can take it and do more analysis.

E) New “Open Graph” application programming interface. Facebook is announcing an entirely new type of API that will allow any page on the web to have the “same features as a Facebook fan page.” Website visitors can come to that page, become a fan, and that website will show up on their profile and in search results. Website owners can also publish into the stream using the stream publishing APIs or on Facebook. In other words, any website is now an “object” in the Facebook social graph. “It’s a way for developers connect users with the things that are important to them.”

The next “f8” Facebook developer conference will be happening in the first half of 2010.

Audience Questions:

Q: “Can we vote on features?”

A: “There are many places on the web you can express your opinion, but no we’re not doing that.”

Q: Didn’t totally understand the “Open Graph” API.

A: “This is all early. We believe the graph contains more than people — products, organizations — but doesn’t need to take place in Facebook proper. Facebook presence for Coca-Cola might be on Coca-Cola.com.”

Q: “The distinction between applications and games — will there be a difference?

A: No. The games channel will be treated the same.

Q: Any news on virtual currency?

A: No.

Q: Email addresses? Can we store them?

A: Yes. We will give you a validated and up-to-date email address.

Q: How will permissions work? Any way to make them less complicated?

A: We’re spending time investigating how to simplify these. We’ve said publicly that we’ll allow more granular control. As part of that process, how can we reduce the number of permissions, and allow users to have a clearer understanding of what’s happening with their data.

Q: Open Graph API. Will page admins be able to communicate with users through apps installed in pages?

A: Communication will happen through this API.

Q: APIs for age verification?

A: We don’t have anything to announce, although we have some already.

Q: Are you going to take notifications away for email? What if people want to accept messages but don’t want to provide email?

A: Yes. Like wanting a phone call without giving out phone number.

Q: Will users be able to control which email, how many emails?

A: We haven’t determined, and few users have multiple emails on Facebook.

Q: App to user notifications going away? That’s a little scary? Will we have to worry about email delivery from our servers? Will Facebook handle?

A: These will be actual email addresses. What I actually provide. The proxy to emails — if you’ve asked for these in the past, those will still work. We may look at transition path.

Q: How will counter show up?

A: It will show up next to the bookmark, if the user has bookmarked the application. Idea is that you can set the counter for whatever reason that you choose. We expect the activity to be a real-world action, we expect that the count should be obvious — the user should have taken the action they always take. Wsers won’t like applications that keep this always on.

Q: Wondering about stream, the broadcast use case where we want to publish to a friend’s wall. Is this addressed?

A: Hasn’t been addressed, although we don’t plan to take away from stream publishing, none more after the changes we announced last week.

Q: You said you’re staffing up for verifying apps.

A: Verification program, including benefits, will be ending. We’ll be taking tools and processes and extending very broadly across platform.

Q: How can we plan for what gets more visibility in the new news feed? How about prioritization in app search?

A: Stories show up in news feed, loosely defined around engagement like comments and likes. Recommendation: Create stream stories that people want to share, comment, like. Don’t have answer on search results.

Q: Will we be verifying apps below a certain size?

A: Our goal is to extend policies across platform very very broadly. We have 350,000 apps on platform, some are tiny, obviously focus on larger ones. We’ll be working to make sure that apps of all sizes meet our policies.

Q: Is Facebook’s policy on backwards compatibility changing at all?

A: Broadly, there are very few platforms that stand up and tell you all the changes that you can expect to see. We’re dedicated to providing as much transparency as we can. We’ll try to maintain backwards compatibility whenever possible. That said, there are times where we can’t do this. In that case, our goal will be to provide as much warning as we can. At least 30 days. Major ones even more. Have a clear transition path for different channels.

Q: What about lightweight ways to keep track of other friends actions?

A: That type of communication could appear couple different places. Lots already take place to email. We’re experimenting.

Q: On fan page, apps can install with a tab. With open graph, how to allow? Also, what about location?

A: We don’t have any specific changes to announce at this point. Important for us to look at. No announcements on location.

Q: What about changes to profiles?

A: We are making some changes. We think it should be great place to accurately represent identity. We’re thinking it’s actually helping users do that. Working on changes that we can’t share right now. There will be some changes that will affect developers. Profile boxes in their current form are going away and will migrate, transition to future ways of sharing identity. Boxes tab will go away. Profile tabs will be narrowed from 710 pixel-width to 560.

Q: You’re going to try to broaden apps. You don’t want them to grow up too fast?

A: We don’t want apps to grow quickly through policy violations. We’ll use signal of app growing quickly to make sure there are no policy violations going on. Goal is not to shut down, but to make sure they aren’t abusing growth. May cut off access to growth channels until they fix, but won’t blow up applications.