The GSP conference yesterday (I’m back here today, but only for the afternoon) brought to light the amount of confusion that exists about this entire generation of technology and services.
Facebook is first and foremost a social network, on top of which they have exposed a set of developer functions that enable applications to be developed that run inside of Facebook AND take advantage of Facebook’s inherent social network functions. Facebook applications are designed to run inside of Facebook and depend on specific Facebook functions as part of the application’s functionality. Here’s NewsGator’s recently developed Facebook application, NewsFriends:
This is far more advanced than hacking a widget to run inside of Facebook, which is exactly what developers have to do to deploy an app to Myspace. Also, on Myspace developers don’t have access to any of the functions that Myspace itself depends on to run their service.
Facebook applications are not trivial to design, build or deploy. On top of the effort required to acquire knowledge about how Facebook’s developer platform works, there’s the other non-trivial issue of designing a compelling application. This is surprisingly difficult because the UI is constrained (space and functions) and more significantly the designer has to think about the dynamics of a social application from the beginning as opposed to attempting to simply layer on the social dimension after the fact.
Simply put, this is why many Facebook applications suck, they haven’t been designed to be inherently social. When we, NewsGator, developed NewsFriends we had conservative goals; while it would have been great to deliver a million deploys in a month the fact is that we focused on learning the essentials, understanding viral loops, and lastly, making mistakes that we could learn from.
Speaking of widgets, yes widgets can run inside of Facebook but they are not the same thing as having a Facebook application. Widgets by definition are self-contained and typically have many deployment options, here’s an example of a Newsgator widget that USAToday is running, flip the widget over and you will have multiple options for where you want to put it:
The above is kind of important with regard to Facebook because there is a subtlety between using Facebook to develop and host and application OR using Facebook simply as a mechanism for distributing an app (which would in this case be a widget). Facebook application developers are hitching their wagons to Facebook in a significant way, while widget developers are using Facebook as one of many deployment options.
The tradeoff between the two strategies are that the Facebook app developer is incurring a lot of risk by being exclusive to Facebook but benefits from the social dimension they provide and the boost to application adoption it can provide. Widget developers are spreading their risk by accommodating users on any platform they are on, but they are giving up the social aspects and depending on non-Facebook viral loops to drive adoption.
Technorati Tags: Facebook, GSP07, NewsGator, Widgets