Mike Isaac

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Courting Precious Developers, Facebook Announces an App Center

Facebook is clear about the future of its platform: Third-party apps are the key to attracting and keeping users inside of its ecosystem.

In yet another huge stride toward bolstering its app platform, the company announced plans for its own central app hub inside Facebook itself, making it easier for users to discover Facebook-integrated apps, as well as easier for developers to submit and feature their apps on Facebook itself.

Until now, users had a handful of ways of discovering apps through Facebook; the company touted “social discovery” as its strong suit, as users were encouraged to find apps through their news feed. The idea is, you’ll find the apps that are most relevant because they’re the ones your friends use. They’ll surface in your newsfeed, and you’ll pick the ones you like while ignoring the ones you don’t care about.

So this is somewhat different. To be clear, it’s not exactly a proper “App Store” competitor to take on the likes of Apple or Google’s respective hubs. It’s more of a centralized location so that everyone — users and developers alike — knows where to go to find Facebook apps. And that didn’t exist before.

But the social discovery part still plays a huge factor. The apps that show up when you visit the App Center will be those that Facebook finds most relevant to you — that is, ones your friends are using, or ones that are scoring particularly high on Facebook’s own internal ratings system that judges just what apps should show up.

“Success through the App Center is tied to the quality of an app,” wrote Facebook employee Aaron Brady in a blog post. “We use a variety of signals, such as user ratings and engagement, to determine if an app is listed in the App Center.”

This is a big deal for building out the future of the platform. Part of what will determine just how much time users spend inside Facebook is the amount of content they have to play around with, and the company relies on outside developers for that. The unveiling of the Open Graph at Facebook’s F8 developer conference last year was the first step in this direction, making it easier for third-party developers to fully integrate their applications into the Facebook ecosystem. Then came the different verbs with appropriate apps — like “Listening” with Spotify and “Watching” with Netflix — broadcasting user activities across Facebook, thereby upping the potential for others to try out those third-party apps.

But as Facebook seems to realize with Wednesday’s announcement, developers can’t rely entirely on social discovery for their apps to grow. Sure, you’ll get the occasional breakout successes like SocialCam, Viddy or Pinterest through organic growth, but users still need a home page to browse through apps.

What’s more, the new App Center will feature additional ways for developers to get paid. The only initial payment options for developers who actually wanted to earn money through Facebook apps were via in-app purchases. So for an app like Farmville — which relies on users buying virtual goods to make money — the original sort of system works well. Now Facebook will give the option for developers to offer paid apps. That makes it easier on developers’ apps for which in-app payments make little sense.

So if the App Center takes off, the impetus for an app to succeed isn’t dependent on a sudden burst of viral growth. In theory, a developer’s app can simmer inside the App Center and eventually bubble up to the forefront of users’ App Center dashboards.

It’s also another potential revenue stream insofar as splitting the cash on paid apps and in-app purchases. And more app use, of course, means more engagement within the Facebook platform. That means more ads. And with the wealth of new data Facebook will receive by looking at the apps its subscribers are using, it also means better targeted ads.

Now it’s up to developers to make apps worth downloading. And what’s good for developers is good for Facebook.


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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work