For the first time since 2011, Facebook held its f8 Developer Conference, which previously brought us the announcements of Timeline and Open Graph. Today, Mark Zuckerberg, Ilya Sukhar, Ime Archibong and Debbie Lu walked us though some key new features from Facebook for mobile apps, including anonymous log-in, cross-platform developer tools, Parse Local Datastore for building offline apps, App Links, FbStart to help grow and accelerate start-ups and of course, Audience Network -- Facebook’s ad network.
The key theme of the event revolved around tools that help people, “build, grow and monetize.” We’ll walk you through each of those categories and how Facebook is enabling all of them.
Zuck kicked off the event straight away by talking about some of the major pain points developers face, including developing for multiple platforms. Developing a mobile application means creating it and rebuilding it for different operating systems, including iOS, Android, Windows and the Web, which all have different requirements and infrastructures. He noted that nobody has really taken the incentive to bridge the gap between these platforms and create tools that work across all of these different devices – until now.
Facebook Platform offers developers cross-platform tools they need to build, grow and monetize (that will recur throughout the overview) apps everywhere – across different platforms and operating systems. A quip that will be tied back to this event is Zuck walking us through the traditional Facebook mantra of “Move fast and break things” to “Move fast with stable infra.” (Cue laughs from the audience and readers.)
Some other features that followed include a two-year core API stability guarantee (which means even if Facebook changes core APIs in the future, it’s guaranteeing it will still support them), API versioning and a 48-hour major bug fix SLA. “We’re usually faster than this, but we wanted to put in place a firm commitment to fix major bugs within 48 hours,” Zuckerberg explained.
Another key part of Zuckerberg’s presentation included his focus on security, and the idea of putting people first. People need to sign in and trust apps, and become wary of the blue button, “Connect with Facebook.” Now, when users sign into a new app, they have a few options. The first is to log in anonymously, so they don’t have to share their identity right away. This will be huge in terms of just getting users to engage with apps, which will in turn lead to increased adoption. Users also have the option to edit the information they provide line by line, and customize what they share, including their email, friend list, likes, birthday and more. (No, for anyone that was watching f8, that was not Mark Zukerberg’s real email address.) There also isn’t an option for you to share your friends’ information anymore – now everybody has to choose what data is shared with what applications on their own.
Sukhar from the Parse team (which joined Facebook about a year ago) explained how it makes it easy for developers to focus on what matters – their application. Parse has three products: Parse Core, Parse Push and Parse Analytics. The team made some updates to these products, offering lower and more “predictable” pricing – Parse Core now offers unlimited API requests up to 30 requests per second, Parse Push now offers unlimited push notifications to up to one million recipients and Parse Analytics offers unlimited data points.
He introduced Parse Local Datastore, which makes it easy to build apps with Parse that work both offline and online. There was a huge emphasis on this, since up until now only the biggest companies have been able to focus on making apps work just as well offline as they do online.
Another key part of his presentation was App Links, which is a set of SDKs that basically make inter-app integration possible. Partners include companies like Spotify, Venmo, Flickr, Rdio, Vimeo, Wattpad, Hulu, Songkick, Mixcloud, Goodreads, Dailymotion, Mailbox, iHeartRadio, Pinterest, Redfin and Enomondo. “What if we never got stuck in mobile Web browsers,” he asked. The seamless integration between apps looks really great.
Archibong walked us through the organic tools companies can use to drive mobile app traffic and engagement. There’s a “Send to Mobile” feature, which offers notifications to users to funnel desktop traffic to the mobile experience. There’s also now a “Mobile Like” button, which ignited some cheers from the audience, and allows users to share content on an app to their friends. (BTW, the “Like” and “Share” buttons are used across more than 10 million websites today.) Finally, there’s “Message Dialog” to privately and intimately share content with a select group of friends, or one on one messaging.
He also introduced FbStart, a new program focused on startups that helps them grow (“Bootstrap” program to get started) and accelerate (“Accelerate” program, has more than $30,000 worth of tools and services.)
Facebook’s Mobile App Ads also help significantly with company growth. Companies like Facetune have increased app rankings significantly (from No. 282 to No. 2 in less than five days) as well as app installations. Facebook Engagement Ads are a quick and easy way to target someone and bring them back into an app. There could be a “Listen now” button for music sharing companies and a “Book now” button for travel and hospitality companies embedded directly into a Facebook mobile ad.
Facebook Mobile App Ads and Engagement Ads bring us perfectly to one of the key announcements of the day, the Facebook Audience Network (FAN). This is something Recode first broke last week, and it turns out its scoop accurate. The Audience Network is Facebook’s mobile ad network and enables better ad targeting. Developers can integrate some code to run FAN in banner ads or work directly with Facebook to create native ads. By integrating the Facebook SDK or working with a measurement partner, advertisers can track demographic info as well as engagements and conversions driven by FAN ads. Companies have to apply for beta before they begin implementation. The move challenges companies like Google and other advertising companies – should make for an interesting next few months to see how this platform and its ads perform.
The next event will be held in Fort Mason on March 25, 2015, bringing it back to an annual event. These announcements introduce a lot of opportunities for the next year; let’s see what mobile developers and advertisers do with them!
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