facebook platform – Stay N Alive

Facebook Quietly Launches Ads API for ALL Developers

Some amazing things have been announced at Facebook’s annual developer conference, F8, going on yesterday and today in San Francisco. From new apps for Facebook Messenger, to a platform for Internet of Things, to one of the most amazing explanations of the value of virtual reality I’ve ever seen, Facebook has by far made up for last year’s F8, which I suggested was a bit uninteresting. But one thing went unannounced that I think bears merit, and I discovered it within their “Developers Garage” here at the conference as I was talking to people working for Facebook at the various booths. That was the launch of Facebook’s advertising API to all developers, making the entire API public.

Up until “recently”, as Facebook reps weren’t able to give me a specific date that it went live, you used to have to apply to access Facebook’s ads API through a very hard-to-find form on the Facebook Developers website. Now, in a very prominent location, Facebook has released a “Marketing APIs” section of their developers website, allowing any developer that needs it to access Insights data, custom audience creation and access, access to a business’s pages and assets, along with the ability to create and access ads on behalf of a business. According to Facebook they released them recently but there is no blog post or official announcement about the release.

To get started with the Facebook Ads API, developers just need to create an app and under “Advanced” within the app settings, set an ad account ID to associate ads with. Then, developers have access to a slew of API calls they can use to retrieve an ad account’s ads, create and modify custom audiences, and even create and target new ads to new audiences in very custom ways. I often use this for my clients to integrate and custom target ads to very specific users that are visiting certain parts of their websites or mobile apps.

Typically, while a developer may be able to code an app like this, they likely won’t know how beneficial this feature can be to a business, which may be why Facebook did not make a big announcement about the feature. Knowing these things can be automated is something critical for marketing organizations to get to know and understand, and one reason I always suggest the more technical elements of marketing orgs visit conferences like F8. These tools Facebook just launched are extremely valuable and can be the key to, with a small update, allowing orgs to have that extra edge against their competitors.

So if you haven’t tried it out yet hop on over to Facebook’s Marketing APIs in their developer documentation and start learning what you can do. To me, this is one of the most valuable and most major announcements to come out of the Facebook F8 developer conference and it wasn’t even announced from the stage. I’m kind of okay with being one of the “few” that knows about it though!

Developers: Here’s How You Access #Hashtags in Your Apps

I showed earlier tonight a way you can access on Facebook.com the stream for any particular hashtag without having to have a link to get to it. I mentioned Facebook would likely release an API for this. Being the idiot that I am I neglected the fact that Facebook already has a search API, and you can start using it right now.

Anyone, developers or not, can do this right now. Go to https://graph.facebook.com/search – add to it the URI variable q, specify a query (in this case your hashtag keyword prefaced by %23, the URI-encoded version of the # sign), and they add “type=post” to the URI string. In laymans terms, here is how it looks:


Just take the above query, put it in your browser (or send it in your app via a GET request), and it will return a JSON-encoded string you can parse and use in your apps. For the non-developers out there, that means there will be a bunch of {‘s and }’s and [‘s and ]’s with the list of all the public posts for that particular hashtag. It’s really simple!

The above example uses the hashtag #hashtag – to change it to something else, just replace “hashtag” with your keyword of choice. This one will do #fail:


Try it yourself and let me know if you see any quirks. So start coding my hacker friends! (and start learning if you’re not!)

Ancestry.com Buys Top Facebook App We’re Related

In the early days of Facebook’s developer platform (2007, to be exact), as apps were going from 0 to 2 or more million users in just a matter of days, family history apps were among the first to rise to the top. The link between family connections and friend connections seemed like a natural fit for apps that were built to connect one another. It appears that, according to Ancestry Insider, one of the pioneer Facebook apps in this industry, We’re Related, was just acquired by Ancestry.com for an undisclosed amount (both are Utah-based companies where I am located).

We’re Related quickly went to the top of the Facebook app store as number 1 where it sat as the top-used app by users worldwide on the Facebook Platform. The app, founded by Paul Allen (ironically the founder of Ancestry.com), intended to show how Facebook friends were related through their family history. The app allowed users to enter their family information, and would then notify family members that they had been added to one’s family tree, asking them to confirm the addition. This “peer-pressure” amongst family members no-doubt led to the app’s popularity on Facebook.

The app was soon expanded to the site, FamilyLink.com which built a standalone site around connecting families through their social networking connections. Shortly after Facebook started imposing restrictions on how app developers could advertise, the app started losing money and FamilyLink had to pivot to more of a site-based model.

According to Ancestry Insider, FamilyLink was sold recently to MyHeritage.com, but the assets of the We’re Related Facebook app were retained by Paul Allen. It would appear that some time before July, Paul Allen sold the final assets of the We’re Related app to Ancestry.com for somewhere under $11.7 million. According to the SEC Form 10-Q filed by Ancestry.com, “In March 2012, the company completed two acquisitions for a total of approximately $11.7 million in cash consideration. The company acquired the DNA assets of Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation, a non-profit organization with a diverse collection of DNA samples and corresponding genealogical information. The company also acquired We’re Related, LLC, which operates the We’re Related Facebook application.” It is unclear how much of that $11.7 million went to We’re Related.

Ancestry Insider also notes that Ancestry.com also has started their own Facebook app, which operates somewhat similar to the We’re Related app on top of Ancestry.com data. It’s unclear as to whether Ancestry.com has used the assets of We’re Related to create their own app.

This acquisition marks the end of a golden era of Facebook app development. This was an era where apps could integrate with every element of the Facebook.com experience, advertise as they wanted, and see incredible results as a result. The playing field has since shifted to a much cleaner approach by Facebook of focusing on the News Feed, while encouraging developers to integrate Facebook Platform outside of the Facebook environment. These apps were truly the pioneers in this era, and deserve all the credit they can get.

Disclosure: We’re Related was one of my first clients when I went out on my own as an entrepreneur. I helped them with some initial wireframes of the app, and later on with some help in publicity for their app. This app is near and dear to my heart.

Facebook Just Downplayed The Biggest Launch They’ve Made Since Platform for the Web

I’m still trying to understand what just happened. The other day I wrote about finding some information about the upcoming HTML5 platform for mobile launch awhile back. There was a piece of their developer documentation that they had left open, which listed all the launch partners, and provided sample apps, which were publicly visible at the time. I had images, HTML, and the entire mobile SDK to look at and play with – all available publicly when I found it. Of course, taking the honorable route, I notified my friends at Facebook and they promptly closed the documentation in preparation for their launch. I’m now wondering if I had just written about it, if it would have been more talked about than what Facebook just did.

Today Facebook launched their iPad app. At least that’s what you would think if you were just a normal user and had no privy information to building apps for Facebook and weren’t following Facebook’s developer blog. Facebook wrote a blog post, announcing the new iPad app, and only briefly mentioned an app ecosystem that had launched with it. When in reality, Facebook just launched something bigger than the original F8 Platform Launch back in 2007.

What Facebook just launched should have had the pomp and circumstance of another F8, when in reality all they published was a blog post to developers. This should have been a press event lead by Mark Zuckerberg, and it should have been touted as “something awesome”, just like Zuck did at the Skype video integration launch a few months ago. Yes, it’s that big, and I’m extremely excited for this launch – my hope is that others can see the potential. I’m a little worried Facebook didn’t hype this up enough.

Facebook HTML5 Mobile Platform’s Potential

When Facebook Platform launched for web back in 2007, Facebook only had 20 million users at the time. Shortly after launch, regardless of that size, developers were immediately seeing their apps built for Facebook platform go from 0 to millions of users in a matter of days. That was for web only.

Today, with the almost exact same type of launch – this time on mobile – Facebook is giving developers an audience of over 350 million users to target their apps. While not called such, all these apps run under similar experiences to the web “Canvas Pages”, and allow developers’ apps to run as a native part of the existing Facebook app experience. Users never have to leave the Facebook app (which is now on the iPad as well) to use their favorite Facebook apps (think Farmville, or Words With Friends).

It doesn’t stop there though. Developers’ apps now appear in the news feed of the mobile apps, allowing for greater discovery of the apps they build. If users search for their app they can also use it by just typing the app’s name in the search box. That’s the potential of 350+ million users all sharing your app with their friends. In addition, Facebook extended the requests dialog to work with mobile – this means your friends can also invite you to use the mobile apps they’re using on their devices.

With today’s launch you can expect Facebook on mobile devices to grow even further. It’s at 350+ million users now. Just as in the days of their original platform launch, users are now more likely to use the mobile apps, and more likely to get their friends using the Facebook experience on mobile. That means more viewers and users for developers, and a much greater opportunity for entrepreneurs.

HTML5 Goes Mainstream

Perhaps the biggest affect of today’s launch is the affect it is going to have on HTML5 mobile apps. Now, in one fell swoop, Facebook has created its own “app store” which reaches hundreds of millions of users. Developers can create their apps natively, or in HTML5 – it doesn’t matter, and they’ll all work in the experience, across numerous devices. Facebook can just be the means of distributing the app – the HTML5 apps don’t even need to exist inside Facebook!

I think the game has changed for HTML5 after today’s launch. Now developers finally have a choice. They finally have a means to standardize and use a technology that works across any device, and in any browser, but looks like a normal app. Today, with Facebook’s Platform for Mobile launch, HTML5 just went mainstream.

I am stoked about today’s launch of Facebook’s HTML5 Platform for mobile – it’s a huge game changer. It’s revolutionary. To me it’s even bigger than Timeline and the real time ticker that they launched at F8. I just don’t get why Facebook didn’t launch this at F8, or at least, why they didn’t do a special press event to get people more excited about it. I’m really worried Facebook didn’t get their PR in order for this launch – it should have been better prepared, and much better explained to the mainstream press and users.

Today’s launch is big – real big, and I’m not sure I’m seeing enough people talk about it. If you ask most members of the press, they’d say just an iPad app launched today. I’m not sure that’s the news Facebook wanted out of today’s launch.

The Conflict of Honor, or Fame and Expertise – What Would You Do?

I came across some very public information tonight on Facebook’s site (not from any of my Facebook friends – anyone can find it), that to any other blogger would be fair game to share. It basically confirms many of the rumors of Techcrunch’s reporting of Spartan, and reveals more details that even Techcrunch doesn’t know. I guess being a developer kind of helps in “reporting”. However, I’m torn whether the “right thing” to do is to share the information I just found.

The thing is – I have very close friends at Facebook. I tried to get them to spill the beans about what is launching, but understandably, they wouldn’t share it (I don’t expect them to). Of course, if they told me what I know now I would definitely not have shared it. My word is my honor – if someone tells me something and tells me not to share it, I don’t share it. My friendship is more important to me than breaking my honor. However, what I found tonight wasn’t from any friend – it’s out there in the open.

So you understand why I’m torn. I know a whole lot about what Facebook is getting ready to launch as a result of this find, and I could notify my friends at Facebook of the mistake of this data being out in the open, or I can publish it on my blog, letting the world know I understand how to find these things, bringing a ton of traffic here, and breaking the news before even Facebook does. People get pretty good job offers off this type of stuff (although I admit I’m not sure I’m looking right now, yet). Would that be the right thing to do though? I know what Techcrunch would do (and I probably would do the same thing if I was employed there – it’s expected of a blog like that – it’s news).

I think I’ve decided to hold on to most of the information, but I will share one thing with you to prove I know something’s coming, very likely tomorrow, in the realm of a mobile platform on Facebook. Keep watching here and on Google+ and Facebook and I hope to share more, in the right way, as it makes sense.

Anyway, here’s the iOS icon they’re likely going to use:

I’ll let you speculate what this means. 
What do you think? Am I doing the right thing in keeping this quiet?

The Next "Facebook Platform" for the Modern Web, and Why Twitter’s Running the Wrong Way

I’ve talked previously about “the web with no login button”, a vision of the Building Block Web that follows the user where they go, knowing who they are and adapting as they move.  With the advent of mobile, entire operating systems running on the browser, cloud-based personal information stores and APIs such as Kynetx to manage both user and application data for the user, we are so close to being where we want to be!  There’s one hurdle we have to jump before we get there though, and I’m concerned Twitter just ran the wrong direction with their new UI.  The hurdle we’ve got to get around is that of allowing a user’s social connections to also follow them wherever they go, uninhibited by any single corporation.  Not a single big player seems willing to take this step yet, but when it happens, I guarantee you’ll see a revolution at the scale of when Facebook Platform launched in 2007.  The first person to do it gets the opportunity to lead the pack, and hundreds of millions will follow.

I mentioned earlier on Twitter that something about Twitter’s new UI (which I’ve actually only seen screenshots and demos of since I’m not on their Press list) really bugged me but I couldn’t put my finger on it.  Perhaps it was hearing Ev emphasize “yet” when talking about CoTweet-like functionality. Perhaps it was hearing Jason Goldman talk about improving their “following” interface to something that I think could potentially threaten some of what I’m doing with my business.  Perhaps it’s the feature they just asked me to kill on SocialToo that I haven’t announced yet.  Perhaps it’s their lack of a solid roadmap like Facebook has to warn developers of what’s ahead and who will be replaced next.  As a developer, every step like this Twitter makes is certainly a threat to my business model and anyone else like me.  It’s definitely a token to their closed nature.  However I think it’s much bigger than that.

I think Alex Payne, of whom I just became a big fan after his recent post on his perceptions of the new UI (a must read), said it perfectly, “all communications media will inevitably be decentralized, and that all businesses who build walled gardens will eventually see them torn down.”  Now, I don’t think all walled gardens will die – Ev William’s own original startup, Blogger.com, remained closed in a time where sites like LiveJournal and WordPress were going completely open source and it was still bought by Google.  In those days, going open source and giving people the opportunity to own their own data stored on each blog was the equivalent of federating social connections would be today – instead of owning content people would now have the opportunity to own their own relationships and port those from site to site if they choose, or host the relationships themselves if they also choose (I’m kind of doing that at http://community.staynalive.com/jesse).  Blogger obviously survived and is now one of the largest blogging platforms on the planet.

Twitter’s new UI, while I’m sure it will increase page views for them and bring them lots of money, is too late for Twitter to do any sort of innovation in this space.  Facebook already did this, and they were called a “walled garden” as a result and are now trying to break out of this reputation as users were getting ready to revolt.  Maybe that’s what Twitter wants, and I’m sure it will make them a lot of money.  They may even gain a large segment of the masses.  Businesses will still flock and so will the money.  I’ve mentioned Twitter’s need to own the UI before, but I argue it’s now too late to be focusing on that.

Twitter could however, have an opportunity to create a new wild west – a new playing field if they choose, a new canvas.  If they do so they need to focus not on the UI, but on the platform and decentralizing it significantly.  Then new opportunities arise such as payments, new service models, search, ad platforms and more that can still make them profitable.  The difference is they’re now spanning the entire web instead of their own walled garden.

I think Facebook started to make moves in this direction as they released Facebook Connect last year, and then Graph API this year along with no restrictions, redacted term limits on storage, and a push further and further away from building on their own UI.  They introduced a new protocol in fact that enables websites to be indexed more properly and enables those websites to more easily bring Facebook connections into the experience.  Facebook is moving from the walled garden approach out into the open web.  Twitter, it seems, is moving in the complete opposite direction, which seems perplexing.

Even Facebook hasn’t hit the nail on the head yet – maybe they’ll make the first move at the next F8 conference.  The next revolution of the web will be when one of these players that currently owns your Social Graph completely federates, creates a standard for others to follow, and then other companies are forced to follow as a result, forcing all the others to rush to find what they’re good at which wasn’t owning your data or social connections.  Then at that point you will truly be allowed to bring your social connections with you wherever you go, allowing for a web with not only no login button, but one where your family and friends follow with you along the way.  That’s a really powerful concept!

Kevin Marks (who led the OpenSocial platform at Google) mentioned the irony in a tweet earlier today of installing the open source social network Diaspora as we were discussing Twitter’s very centralized real time streaming API and federated environments.  I think that Kevin may be part of the revolution and we just don’t know it yet.  If none of these players make a move, it will be the next open source project like WordPress, or LiveJournal did in the early 00’s that will emerge from the dust, gain traction, and the landscape will naturally adapt.  It has to happen – it’s going to happen, and the first big player to do it will lead the way. I’m excited to find out who makes that move and I’m already thinking of ways I can jump on that bandwagon as a developer.

Picture courtesy http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/news/article571291.ece

Facebook Kills Connect, Makes App Creation Easier, Simpler

As I’ve been writing Facebook Application Development for Dummies (now available on Amazon for pre-order!), there has been one thing I have been noticing: Despite all the new focus on Facebook’s Graph API, Facebook has still had a lot of conflicting focus on their old, more complicated, Connect APIs, making it a fun thing to try and explain in a Dummies book.  That confusion was evident especially in the application creation screens, where Facebook had page after page of options to fill out that they were no longer focusing on, “Widgets” to configure (which Facebook doesn’t even link to any more), and odd terminology that just doesn’t make sense any more.  Add to that the fact that, just announced, Facebook is killing the FBML versions of apps in favor of the iframe (and FBML itself in favor of Social Plugins), a lot of stuff just didn’t make sense in their app creation process any more.

Some time recently it appears Facebook finally fixed that.  Now Facebook has just 5 categories to fill out when creating your application or Facebook-integrated website, and there are no confusing terms such as “Connect”, or “Widgets”, or “Canvas”.  Facebook is focusing on 5 things: “About”, “Website”, “Facebook Integration”, “Mobile”, and “Advanced”.  I think from the titles of the sections these things are obvious, and it also shows that Facebook is putting an increased focus on external use of their applications on websites and mobile and less on Facebook itself.  We also see this with the removal of custom tabs on personal profiles (they will still be available for your business Page, have no fear!).  In addition, Facebook has removed the long Application key, and is now putting focus on just the Application ID and Application Secret – this is a move they have been pushing towards since the launch of Graph API at their F8 developers conference earlier in the year.

The new Facebook Application Screen is simpler and easier than the old

In addition, Facebook has added 3 experimental new features you can turn on, to focus more on their new OAuth 2.0 authentication process.  One of my biggest frustrations in trying to document all of this in my book has been the lack of consistency.  Getting graph API to handle authentication on a Facebook.com-hosted app in the past has been a horrendous experience, pretty much forcing developers back to the old way of authorization.  Now it should be easier for developers to fully focus on the new Graph API methods, both in and out of Facebook.  It is completely clear that Graph API is the future, and Social Plugins are replacing FBML (unfortunately for my second book).

Facebook also added 3 new features, making OAuth 2.0 easier to manage on Canvas pages.

While frustrating as I try to adapt my book, these changes are welcome, and should make creation and configuration of apps much easier for developers in the future.  Especially with the future removal of the need to configure FBML or iFrame, along with Profile tabs, setting up an application should be a piece of cake for both novices and experienced developers alike.  I’m sure it also makes the support process for Facebook a lot easier as well.

I hope other app platforms can take Facebook’s lead on their API.  Out of all of them, Facebook’s new focus is dirt simple and easy for the most novice of programmers to learn.

Are you working on a Facebook app?  How does this affect your development on Facebook platform?

Facebook to Launch SideWiki-like Recommendation System for Websites

On Saturday I broke news of a few specific XFBML tags Facebook will be releasing as part of its OpenGraph API, as revealed by their open source Javascript Client libraries.  I held back one announcement that I think is almost just as interesting as their Insights for websites, or the SocialBar, which will provide Meebo-like functionality for Facebook on any website (I think it’s no coincidence Meebo, Google, and Yahoo announced XAuth shortly after I wrote that post).  Facebook, in conjunction with F8, is getting ready to launch “fb:recommendations”, a tag which enables users to provide recommendations to other Facebook users on any OpenGraph-enabled website.

Currently in Facebook’s open source Javascript client libraries, the tag can be placed on any website, and, according to the check in for the code on Github, something like this:

“should be replaced by an iframe showing recommendations for the abc website.”  Rendering the code currently just displays an iframe with the Facebook.com website in the frame.  I am assuming when they turn it on to the world that will render something completely different.

If my theories (and a few sources close to Facebook) are correct, Facebook will soon be releasing the ability for any Facebook user to provide recommendations and advice on any website that integrates the recommendations widget.  Think Google Sidewiki, but at the discretion of each website.  The functionality I am guessing will work similar to that of Foursquare’s “Tips” feature.

What makes this feature even more interesting is what this could bring if some of the rumors of GeoLocation being launched are true.  Is this just a sidewiki feature, or could Facebook be getting ready to launch a Geolocation feature, enabling “Recommendations” that go beyond just websites into real-life locations and places?

Be sure to read more about FBML, including a very beginner lesson on XFBML, in my book, FBML Essentials.

Facebook to Developers: "You Decide"

By the time I hit publish on this 5 other bigger blogs will have probably already covered this, but this deserves some praise.  One reason I love the Facebook Platform is because they really seem to care about API developers.  They do things the “right” way.  For instance, they have a beta site where they always release new bug fixes and features before they go live on the site.  They always release new API features in “sandbox mode” before going live with them.  No other platform releases new features and updates in this manner!  Just today they upped their game even more, giving developers full control over this process by letting developers decide when new API features go live.

The service gives developers a new “Migrations” option in their application settings, enabling them to choose when things go live.  The first one of these they launched has to do with a bug they’ve fixed which formats empty JSON strings correctly.  To enable the feature you just go to your “Migrations” section for your app, and select “on”, and now all empty JSON strings will be formatted in the correct manner.  The power of all of this is that you get to decide when these features go live, but you can start trying them immediately!

Of course, all features will eventually go live, but what this shows is that Facebook is willing to keep developers aware of changes before they go live.  Facebook won’t be launching features into the wild out of the blue like many of their competitors do quite regularly.  Previously, changes would go live, and while they would often show on the beta site, developers had little notice and little time to test them before putting them into production.  These changes would break many apps the minute they went into production.

IMO, this small feature changes the game for many other app platforms.  NO OTHER major app platform does anything like this.  Kudos to the Facebook platform team for continuing to change the game in regards to API development.  Since the Facebook platform launched, they have always been ahead in changes like this.  I can only hope other API platforms can follow suite in giving developers more control like this.  No one likes their applications to break because of simple API changes.

Want to Learn How to Write Facebook Apps? Now’s Your Chance

facebook platformOn Thursday morning I’m doing a free webcast for Safari Books Online (moderated by OReilly’s Laurel Ackerman) in which I’m going to go into further detail than I have before on how to get started building Facebook apps.  I’ll take you from start to finish, focusing this time on more hands-on coding, and less introduction and together we’ll build a Facebook app from scratch.  I haven’t figured the time yet, but if we have time, I’ll also show you how in just 3 steps you can integrate a simple Facebook login into your own website and apply the same principles we went over with the Facebook on your own website through Facebook Connect.

I’m going to stick to HTML, FBML, and Javascript for this session – if you have a knowledge of just HTML and Javascript you should be able to follow along pretty well, so this should work well for both the new programmer wanting to get their hands wet, and the experienced programmer just getting started in the Facebook platform environment.  These sessions I normally charge businesses and organizations hundreds per student so this is a unique opportunity for you to come learn on a budget (free)!

You can register for the webcast here – it starts at 10am PST this Thursday (tomorrow!).  Each participant will get a free 45 day registration to Safari Books online’s huge library of tech books, and 10 lucky participants will also win a free autographed copy of my book on Facebook development, FBML Essentials.  Also, I’m starting a thread on my Facebook Page that I’d love to hear your questions and suggestions on what you’d like to hear in the session.  You can comment on that here.

I’m looking forward to sharing what I know with all of you – please hurry and register before it’s too late!