Mike Isaac

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Developers! Facebook Really Wants Your Lifestyle Apps.

Facebook News Feed EventAs every good nerd knows, a platform is only as good as the apps it hosts.

No one knows this better than Facebook, the social giant home to thousands of socially integrated apps plugged into its “Open Graph” network. The problem is, it’s not about amassing an enormous cache of apps for the sake of having a lot. Facebook needs its partners to build the best apps, worthy of featuring in the company’s App Center repository.

“We can’t succeed — and we’re really not an interesting product — without a strong developer community around us,” said Sam Lessin, Facebook’s director of Identity Products, at a South by Southwest event on Sunday.

Games were Facebook’s clear breakout hit (hence, the rise of Zynga). Then came the onslaught of music, news and video apps. Now, Facebook is heavily promoting a new class of apps — so-called “lifestyle” apps.

The company is working closely with developers creating apps for actions like reading books, sharing which movies you just watched, and blasting out what your recent fitness stats are to your friends.

Basically, it’s Facebook’s way of fostering more sharing inside its network. Otis Chandler, CEO of the well-adopted social reading app Goodreads, told me that apps in the lifestyle category — like reading, for instance — are more likely to be shared among users, hence Facebook’s increase in promoting apps like Goodreads (among others).

For that promotion, Goodreads gets a much-desired bump in traffic. Since the company launched its Facebook app in January of 2012, Chandler’s company has grown from 6.5 million users to upward of 15 million. (Though not all of that growth is a direct result of the Facebook app, mind you.) That’s a nice signal for other developers in the space looking to build successfully on top of Facebook.

facebook_timeline_appsLet’s be clear, though — Facebook isn’t in the goodwill business. The better and more engaging the apps its developers build for the platform, the more sharing and activity Facebook will see throughout its entire network. That means happier users, more engagement and, yes, more use of Facebook’s monetized products.

There’s a caveat here. Facebook has courted app developers before, and then left some of those developers out in the cold entirely with large shifts in the company’s overall platform strategy. Take Washington Post’s Social Reader, for instance: WaPo launched its app in a grand way at Facebook’s F8 conference a year and a half ago, to much fanfare. But after Facebook dialed back the traffic hose to WaPo’s app, WaPo shuttered development on the app entirely.

Facebook would say that this is an example of iterating quickly — or “moving fast and breaking things, if you will — trying out strategies to see what works and what doesn’t. Perhaps that’s fine if you’re Facebook, but not if you’re a company pouring cash into building your app on top of Facebook’s platform.

If you want to go down that discussion rabbit hole, take a peek at my conversation with Facebook’s VP of Partnerships Dan Rose from our Dive into Media conference last month.

Will Facebook stay the course on pushing lifestyle apps as hard as it has lately? I’m sure the developers hope so.

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Another gadget you don’t really need. Will not work once you get it home. New model out in 4 weeks. Battery life is too short to be of any use.

— From the fact sheet for a fake product entitled Useless Plasticbox 1.2 (an actual empty plastic box) placed in L.A.-area Best Buy stores by an artist called Plastic Jesus