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The Art of Facebook Application Development

Facebook Applications development started in mid 2008 with the advent of the Facebook API. Since then it has made great strides in several aspects such as security, privacy and robustness.

The Facebook API provides us (developers) the ability to get permission from a user to access certain areas of their Facebook profile. This information can then be used to create a personalized experience for the user within the application; one is unique to them as the information populated on their screen is based off the information gathered from their Facebook profile.

Why are these apps better on Facebook than anywhere else on the web?

Applications can exist on any web site, so the natural question to ask is, what makes it so special if the application is on Facebook. To learn about this, let's first look at the different types of applications.

There are many genres under which these applications can be classified: Entertainment, Socializing, Utility and Productivity are some examples. However, the biggest and most lucrative genre has always been 'Games'.

Users can play Games on many web sites across the Internet. However, when they play a game on Facebook, they can bring their friends into their game, compete with them, play alongside them, taunt them, congratulate them, ask for their help and much more. Games are just so much more fun when played with friends. It just makes sense.

Other applications can also be enhanced via Facebook's social features, which we can leverage thanks to the information we get from the user's Facebook profile upon being granted permission by the user. For example, an application might be in the business of rating restaurants, providing a new-aged yellow pages for users through which they can find several restaurants and choose one to go to. When the social layer from Facebook's box of features is added upon this concept, you suddenly can have a much more relevant list of restaurants:

  • The list can be filtered out to only show restaurants within "x" miles of your home location.
  • It can show you restaurants that have been visited and recommended by your friends.
  • You can read reviews posted by other Facebook friends for restaurants.
  • You can see which restaurants have the most "Likes" from visitors and what percentage of users who visited there gave it a "Like" vs. those that didn't.

These points will help the application personalize itself to the user and provide far more utility than it previously did without the social layer.

So who benefits from these applications?

What's the bottom line? The ultimate question always is: 'who is benefiting from the application and how?'

First and foremost, for any application be successful, it is important that the user is benefiting a great deal from it. This is the only way a user will keep coming back to the application and that is the application developer's goal.

Secondly, from a developer or owner's benefit point of view, the application can be created for a variety of reasons:

  • Monetization
  • Brand awareness growth
  • Social behavioral research
  • User behavior analysis

These are just some ways in which applications can be utilized. Each technique would have it's own approach and the application would need to be customized to ensure that the objectives are met. For example, an application looking to earn money may implement Facebook Credits or run Banner advertisements for monetization while an application looking to spread the word about a new brand might want to be more appealing for users and not have any barriers or annoyances such as banners and would encourage users to share stories on their newsfeed a lot more.

What makes a good Facebook application?

So now that we have discussed why Facebook applications are made, we can touch briefly on the characteristics of a good Facebook application.

While it is not as simple as a checklist of do's and don'ts to determine a good Facebook application, there are common practices, which could be considered common sense or general knowledge. Keeping them in mind when putting together a Facebook application can help you go a long way.

  • Respect the user's privacy – This is the most important point, especially of late, as people are getting increasingly paranoid with the information they are giving to third party developers since a few cases have risen where the information was being misused. Steps must be taken to ensure that the user's data and their friends' data are not misused at any moment.
  • Don't be pushyApplication developers get excited by the prospect of viral growth and tend to do things like 'auto-publish' a newsfeed item when a user interacts with a certain feature in the application. This will almost certainly put a user off your application and will not score you any credibility points. It is best to prompt the user and give them the option of publishing a newsfeed item if they so wish to do so voluntarily.
  • Be transparent – Sometimes you will need to gather sensitive information from the user's profile in order to enter them into a contest or make a customized recommendation to them. It is always best to keep the user informed of this. It will create a much greater level of trust.
  • Monitor – Using Insights, Google Analytics, Kontagent or other analytics tools will provide you valuable information which will shed light on which aspects of your application are being utilized as expected and which ones are seeing lackluster results. It also reveals what kind of load the application requires and if the scalability is sufficient. This information can be then used to improve the existing product.
  • Listen to feedback – In the social applications development world, there is little to no chance that in your very first attempt, you will get your product developed absolutely perfectly. Predicting user behavior, although has come a long way with a lot of research to back it up, is still a mysterious field. Being able to listen to feedback and quickly tweak and iterate is very important in determining the long-term success of a Facebook application.

Conclusion

Facebook app development has come a long way and continues to evolve on a daily basis. New rules, hurdles, features, and users get thrown into the mix every single day. This keeps the space extremely exciting and at the same time very challenging. Ultimately, having a strong concept a good foundation, ethical development practice and patience will get you far in the space.