Today marks the six-year anniversary of the Facebook Platform, something that has been defining for Facebook as a company and already influenced a number of industries.
Now, Facebook is making its next big moves for the platform by introducing app services — new tools for developers that make it easier to build applications that span different devices and put users at the forefront. This is seen most clearly with the acquisition of Parse, a mobile backend as a service company, which will continue as a separate brand with a freemium services model for the time being. Facebook also recently hired the team behind Spaceport, a cross-platform development framework, and stealth software startup Osmeta, which was reportedly working on something related to enabling simpler development across devices.
“We’ve been thinking about how we can provide tools to developers to enable a more cross-platform world,” Facebook Director of Developer Products Doug Purdy said at a media “whiteboard” session Thursday. “We’re trying to create a platform that developers can build something that spans over devices and makes people the center. Regardless of the device that you or your friends are on, everyone can have a rich experience.”
Facebook Platform began on May 24, 2007, as a way for anyone to build applications that live within Facebook and take advantage of social features like friend lists, Wall posts and News Feed. Facebook had seen incredible success with its own Photos app, which did not offer high resolution photos or advanced editing features like other popular photo sharing services. Instead, it simply allowed users to tag their friends and then see other photos by who was in them. The social network saw the potential for a social component to be added to all sorts of experiences that it could not build itself, so it opened a developer platform. Within a week, there were already hundreds of apps on Facebook, including 15 with more than 100,000 users and one with over a million.
Since then, the platform has been expanded to allow applications to live on the web or mobile devices, instead of just on Facebook canvas. The platform also provides Social Plugins, which allow developers and web publishers to add social features to their sites with just a few lines of code. These include the Like button, recommendations bar, comments, activity feed, login button and more. The Open Graph is another major component of the platform, mapping connections between people and objects through actions. Developers can now define their own objects and actions and let users share their activity back to Facebook. These features make Facebook a horizontal platform that can be integrated into any experience, whether it’s on Facebook.com, desktop web, iOS, Android, smart TVs, wearable computers or anything else.
Facebook says now more than 550 million people have personalized experiences on apps and sites each month as a result of platform features such as login and the Like button, and more than 1 billion stories from apps and sites are generated from the platform daily.
By enabling developers to create more apps that exist across devices and platforms, Facebook is looking to secure its position as the identity layer that powers these experiences and the distribution channel that helps them get discovered, organically or through paid advertisements. In the process, these apps continue to build Facebook’s graph of people and the world they live in, providing interesting content for News Feed, valuable information for Graph Search and an unmatched level of data for ad targeting.