Backing Up Out of Facebook Developer Garage

FacebookDeveloperGarageLogo.jpgFacebook gathered developers at its headquarters in Palo Alto, Calif., for its Facebook Developer Garage, where it discussed new rules for the social-networking site’s platform.

Director of business development Ethan Beard summarized the changes in a post on the Facebook Developers Blog:

Direct and Simplified Communication with Users

Access to user email addresses: To reduce friction and empower application and Facebook Connect developers to manage their relationship with users, for the first time, we’re providing a simple and safe way for users to share their email addresses with you.

Focusing Facebook communication on the stream and Inbox: This consolidates developer and user communication into the two most powerful channels—stream and Inbox—and provides new features to help users stay engaged with applications. User-to-user communications commonly in the notifications and requests channels will be moved to the Inbox.

Improved Application Discovery and Engagement

Simplified navigation: To make it easier for users to quickly find and engage with applications, their favorite apps will be featured on their home page with bookmarks and new dashboards. Applications will also be represented on canvas pages with a format that increases brand association with users. In addition, users will be able to better represent applications on their profile following short-term changes that include focusing profile integration on application tabs, as well as removing profile boxes, the info section of boxes, and the Boxes tab.

Prominent new Dashboards: With default placement on the home page, an all-new Apps Dashboard and Games Dashboard will ensure users can easily find and return to their favorite apps and discover new ones; the Games Dashboard will be a dedicated place for users to interact with games and will provide an additional communication channel, called “News,” where you can personalize text updates for users.

New Counter channel: Re-engaging users is an important part of delivering a high quality experience. We are introducing the Counter, a simple number to the right of your application’s home page bookmark. The Counter is your own channel where you can prompt users when they need to perform an action within your application.

New Developer Products and Clear Policies

Open Graph API: Any page on the Web can have many of the features of a Facebook Page—users can become a Fan of the page, it will show up on that user’s profile and in search results, and that page will be able to publish stories to the stream of its fans.

Improved Application Insights Page and new Analytics API: We will provide improved tools with more robust data to better adjust and manage applications and Facebook Connect-enabled Websites.

New Facebook Connect Libraries: Our libraries will be smaller, clearer, and faster.

New developer Website, Platform Live Status, and public roadmap: will include a central dashboard to view the health of various integration points, bugs and Platform uptime, as well as detail about upcoming changes and improvements to Platform. You will also be able to subscribe to the Developer Blog and Status Feed via email.

New principles, simplified policies, Verification standards for all: We have streamlined our policies and principles and will be proactively applying them widely across Platform. In addition, we’re retiring the formerly optional Application Verification brand, submission process, fees and badge; the program’s higher standards will be required and applications will be subject to review at any time.

You can find details and estimated timing for all of these items on our Developer Wiki and view initial screenshots in this photo album.

Inside Facebook on the removal of notification and request application-program interfaces, the migration to the inbox and the creation of an email API:

This is one of the biggest changes for developers who’ve designed and optimized their applications for Facebook’s current communication channels. Notifications and invitations are going away, and are being split up and migrated into 1) inbox messages for user-to-user communication, and 2) emails for app-to-user communication.

Applications that have optimized their viral growth or engagement flows for notifications and requests could potentially experience big traffic declines obviously. Now, there is no more default-on application-to-user communication channel. This means the News Feed will become more important, as it is now the only default-on one-to-many channel. Facebook says the changes are expected to go live by the end of the year or early next. All developers should start making plans to rethink and reoptimize immediately.

Inside Facebook on application and game dashboards:

Facebook is giving some prominent real estate (i.e. bookmarks) to the new application and game dashboards. This could help with application re-engagement and discovery. On the dashboards, Facebook will show users what apps they’ve engaged with lately, as well as what apps their friends are engaging in, much like the current app directory.

From a question-and-answer session with Beard at the Facebook Developer Garage, as reported by Inside Facebook:

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: 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: 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: 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: 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.

TechCrunch on the Open Graph API:

To say details are vague at this point is being overly generous. But, the key idea is in place, and was presented today. Basically, the Open Graph API is a way for Facebook to allow other companies, sites, services, etc to interact with Facebook without having to create a dedicated Facebook Page. Big deal, you might think—isn’t that what Connect is? Yes, to an extent, but it would seem that the idea here is to go way past that.

With the Open Graph API, Facebook wants to allow anyone to take their own site and essentially wrap it in a Facebook blanket. This doesn’t necessarily mean in a visual way, but rather that these sites that use the APIs will be able to replicate many of the core Facebook functionality on their own sites. Facebook isn’t being more specific at this time about what elements would be included in this, and when I spoke briefly to new director of product management for platform Bret Taylor (fresh from the FriendFeed acquisition) about it afterwards, he made it very clear that many of the details are still being ironed out and thought up.

Still, it’s not hard to imagine what this will be. During his presentation, Facebook’s head of platform, Ethan Beard, laid out the Open Graph as essentially a Facebook Fan Page for any site on the Web. So you can imagine that you might be able to create a Facebook-style Wall to include on your site, but able to update your statuses from your site, leave comments, like items, etc. Again, it’s like a Facebook Page, but it would be on your site. And you can only include elements you want, and leave out others.

There’s another reason why this is a brilliant maneuver: Facebook has no shortage of critics who say it’s too closed-off, or “sandboxed.” By extending Facebook functionality outside of Facebook proper (something the team really played up today at the event), it would seem that Facebook is taking a step in the right direction. And it is, to a certain extent. But again, let’s be clear, the end goal for this is still to make Facebook the social center of the Web.