How the Facebook Developer Platform Has Changed How We Use the Web

To say the Facebook Developer Platform changed the web as we know it would be a dramatic understatement. Originally launching in 2007 as a tool for developers to build apps for the social network, six years later it has evolved into a whole lot more.

Facebook has grown outside of the confines of and is not only a presence on many of the websites we visit — either through a Facebook log-in, or Share or Like capability. It’s also a growing mainstay in the mobile world, allowing us stay connected and play games with our friends while we’re on the go.

Friday, the Facebook Developer Platform turned six years old. We took the milestone as an opportunity to sit down with the Director of Platform Product at Facebook, Doug Purdy, to talk about the evolution of the Facebook platform over the past six years, what it all means, and where it’s going in the future.

A Blank Canvas

To understand where Facebook platform is, you have to first understand how it got started. In the beginning, the Facebook Developer Platform was simply a way for third-party developers to embed apps into the Facebook experience.

Called “Canvas,” it opened the door for companies like Zynga to create apps — and particularly games — that existed within the walls of Facebook.

“It’s been 6 years, but that product to this day is enormously important to both third-party developers and Facebook, as well as to our users,” says Purdy. “If you go look, not only are users getting value out of that, look at the effect it’s had on the developer ecosystem,” he said.

Facebook currently has a quarter of a billion people playing games on the social network in any given month. It paid out roughly $2 billion to developers just last year.

Canvas is for the most part unchanged from its launch 6 years ago. Since that launch, it has become more and more important to users and has continued to grow — currently reaching higher profits than ever.

Getting Connected
In 2008, Facebook dug a little deeper with its developer platform, launching Facebook Connect, the first way for people to connect to their Facebook accounts from an external website.

“The reason we did that was that there were many developers who didn’t want to necessarily fit inside the Facebook frame, and we still wanted to offer an opportunity for those applications to be social,” says Purdy.

Just five years later, that product, like canvas, is still going strong. Currently more than 10 million apps and websites are integrated into Facebook.

“I think it’s very difficult to find a mobile application or website that doesn’t have Facebook log-in incorporated in some way,” he says.

Another way Facebook started to connect with the outside world was with the Like button. Launched in 2010, Facebook launched the social plug-in as a way for developers to get more social.

“What that really represented was us wanting to make it far easier for third-party developers to integrate in with the social graph,” says Purdy. “To make their applications social by default, and for their users to be able to tell their stories back to their friends”

The Like button coupled with Facebook Connect has proven to be a winning combination on Facebook, with many of the world’s largest websites — including Mashable — offering some sort of Facebook experience on top of their existing app or service.

The Open Graph
In 2011, Facebook let developers integrate even deeper with the social network through the open graph.

“Developers could really transform themselves from being something that users just used, into something that was really a part of who they are,” Purdy says.

He’s talking about, for example, applications such as Nike+ that share information on your run. Using Nike+, Facebook users can share that they’re going on a run with friends. If friends “like” your run on the social network, then you’ll hear a cheer in your ear.

Open-graph integrations have been exceptionally popular with developers, and also for their users.

“We’re starting to see not just games being successful on the platform,” says Purdy. “If you look at the lifestyle apps that are really part of who you are, we’re seeing an enormous amount of those coming to the Facebook platform.”

Over the years, Facebook has had a dramatic impact on how some companies do business. Goodreads, for example, is a company that uses Facebook’s Developer Platform to help friends share book recommendations with each other.

“Developing for each new iteration of the Facebook platform has had a huge impact on our growth, especially in the last couple of years,” Otis Chandler, CEO and cofounder of Goodreads told Mashable.

“By January 2012, Goodreads had grown to 6.5 million members. Facebook Timeline launched at that point and that’s when we saw a huge jump in signups and traffic from Facebook. There are now more than 18 million members on Goodreads and a large part of that is due to Facebook. There were several factors behind that growth (we hit a critical mass, mobile became an increasingly significant driver of new members and we launched our recommendation engine) but Facebook was the accelerant on the fire.”

The New Timeline
All those things led up to Facebook’s recently redesigned Timeline, which features different sections for different types of content you’re interested in. Goodreads content, for instance, is stored in a “Books” section on your profile.

Just this week Pandora, for instance, announced that it would be integrating into the Facebook Timeline, bringing the music you listen to and like on the service to your Facebook profile where your friends can see it. In the case of Pandora, the content you share is stored in a special “Music” section on your Timeline.

“For us, this is really about trying to take these third-party applications that are creating the story of your life – whether or not it’s a game, all the way to what food I’m eating — and having great homes for those in News Feed or Timeline, or eventually into Graph Search”

Looking To The Future
Mobile is playing a huge role in the future of the web and also the future of Facebook. When most people think of the Facebook platform, they’re thinking of the original Canvas product. However, Purdy is quick to note that it’s a whole lot more.

Facebook Platform is designed in a way to be device-agnostic. Whether you’re interacting with the web on your computer, tablet, smartphone or even Google Glass — Facebook can be right beside you.

The interactions we see now with Facebook are only just the beginning for the company.

During an interview last year, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said, “We want to build a system which is as deeply as possible integrated into every major device people want to use,” a sentiment that Purdy echoed during our conversation.

“This isn’t really Facebook platform versus these other things. Facebook platform is something that puts people at the center of all those platforms,” he says.

“Every time we see a new platform come up, we don’t get despondent — we get excited. We have to support all those different platforms to be able to talk to 1.1 billion users.”

Images Courtesy Facebook, Zynga, Klout


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