Are You Going to Lose Your Shirt? How Facebook's Platform Changes Will Affect You

On July 14, FB will begin to unveil its new profile design along with a host of Platform changes that impact how applications interact with users. To get a quick-look at the new layout, log in to your page and then go to http://www.new.facebook.com/profile.php. Not only does it look different, it also works differently. This post goes over some of the changes and what they mean for you as a developer and for the application industry as a whole.

Four Primary Changes Impacting Developers

There are a whole bunch of changes going through, but there are really only four that you need to pay close attention to. Here they are:

  1. NewsFeed takes over the neighborhood: The new profile pages are 70% News Feed. Seriously, it’s huge. FB is trying to move everything to the feed, so they’ve made it fatter, more interactive, and added the ability to integrate rich media. Everything is now secondary to the fatty News Feed.
  2. Applications moving to a “boxes” tabFacebook is basically kicking us and all of our rowdy friends out into the back yard. As such, the applications will now show up on one of four tabbed pages. They’ve called our new home “boxes”.
  3. Moving from “require add” to “require login”: Back in May, Facebook let us know that in addition to the new design, they would be changing the way users first interact with an application by forcing “require_login” calls in place of “require_add”. This means that when a user first touches your application, he or she will be prompted to a “login” page as opposed to the “add application” pages we’ve been accustomed to. Here are the key changes that come along with this:
    Require Login Changes Table Image
  4. New usage/success metrics: Given that different types of apps should be measured in different ways, Facebook is now providing more metrics, namely by displaying 7-day and 30-day data. Beyong this, they are also adding in the ability to track canvas page views, the number of API calls, and average http request and fbml render times.

Key Implications

All of this means the following for you and your apps:

  • “The first touch is the sweetest”: With the move to logins vs. adds, you are initially granted a 1-hour session with the user. As such, the onus is now on you to make that touch as engaging and meaningful (“I love you… I really do”) as possible. You have to wine and dine them nowadays to keep them coming back.
  • The News Feed will become your megaphone: News Feed used to be kind of like a dinky parade. All the information would just march on by and we didn’t really have to pay attention. Now the thing is taking over all roads in town and there’s elephants and all kinds of nonsense everywhere. Key lesson: NewsFeed stories will become the key way to engage new users. So be sure to give users creative ways to publish stories about your app to the feed, and give them incentives to do so.
  • Positive opt-ins for emails, infinite sessions, and prominence: While you do get access to their information when they log in, you will now have to get positive consent for email notifications, infinite sessions, and placement/publicity on the users’ homepage. This will be a tough balance given that you want them to get as complete of a taste of your application in that first touch.
  • Harder app removal, but think about incentives to add value: One of the positive effects of the new design is that users won’t be able to instantly remove installed applications on the boxes page. They will have to take the added step of going to “Edit My Applications”. This means that removes will likely go down, but it also means that you will need to be creative in incenting users to formally add the application.
  • Placement Tug-of-war: Users can move their apps around on the boxes page, but absent their taking any action, the layout becomes dynamic relative to usage. So the more a user interacts with your app, the higher placement it will receive. Furthermore, users will have the option of identifying one application to receive a separate tab on the user homepage. Get creative about incentives to do this.
  • Plan now and be ready to adapt: In the olden days of 2007, the apps that experienced exponential growth tweaked and made changes to maximize their growth. As the landscape is altered, the app developers that understand these changes and adapt to the new layout will continue to thrive while those that play by old rules will founder. Get ready to move fast and figure out what works when FB platform changes go live.

What to Monitor

These changes will begin going live next week. Rather than just waiting to see what happens, we’d like to outline a few things that we’ll be monitoring and thinking through along the way. Here are some of the questions we’ll be asking:

  • Any changes in total canvas page views? Many are predicting a huge drop in page views given that notifications will likely go down. We don’t expect it to be that dramatic.
  • What percentage of logins become users without prompts? Users are accustomed to adding an application, but it’s unlikely that they’ll initially notice the difference between logins and adds. Track conversion rates with and without prompts.
  • Are “removes” dropping? One possible result of these changes is that “removes” will go down because when an individual finally adds the app, he or she is most likely to be a loyal user.
  • What is the best way to present canvas-page opt-ins? We assume that a best practice will emerge fairly quickly. Will you be the one to figure out the magic formula?

Ultimately, our team thinks all of these changes to the Platform and profile design will be good for the application industry. As always, though, let us know your thoughts or questions. You can get in touch with me at gordon@socialcash.com.

Gordon Peters pictureGordon Peters is a technology entrepreneur and social media expert currently serving as the General Manager of SocialCash, a leading monetization engine for application developers and platforms. He has served in various roles with a broad list of technology organizations in the US and internationally. To learn more, check out Gordon’s bigsight profile.