Late last week, Facebook said that its profile box deprecation process, which it originally announced a few months ago, would begin this week. According to that post, application profile boxes would no longer be able to be added to user profile pages starting this week, and starting in “early August,” application boxes would be booted from the profile page altogether.
Today, Facebook got a little ahead of schedule, as it actually removed application boxes from profile pages altogether for a few hours. They’re now back – but despite some user complaints, they’re still slated for permanent removal soon.
Facebook’s treatment of application integration with the profile page has been an interesting story over the years since the Platform launched. Initially after the Platform opened in 2007, profile boxes became an extremely powerful way for applications to spread “virally.” At that time, app boxes could be installed on user profile pages in either a “wide”format on the right side of the page, or a “narrow” format on the left side of the page.
Since then, however, Facebook has taken significant steps to change the way apps have presence on the profile. Facebook removed the “wide” format option, and height-limited the “narrow” format option, instead encouraging developers to get users to publish News Feed items and install tabs for their applications. While this hurt distribution for many apps that were primarily designed to be viral profile widgets, Facebook actually largely viewed allowing profile boxes so much profile real estate as a danger for the long term growth of the service.
Why? Ultimately, Facebook believed that allowing too much flexibility in profile design would affect user engagement. As a result, while other sites like MySpace allow relatively deep customization of the profile page for “self expression” purposes – everything from background images to color palettes – Facebook has instead chosen to make the stream the consistently dominant element of the profile page. It’s almost as if Facebook views profile boxes as a mistake, that they’ve had to gradually undo over the last couple of years.
So, just as one final note to developers: all profile boxes will be removed soon.