fbml essentials – Page 2 – Stay N Alive

Looking for iPhone and Facebook Development and Consulting Shops

With my new work at i.TV (go visit the iTunes Store Home Page if you want to try us out – lower right-hand corner), I have started phasing out my consulting (which used to be my full-time job) and am putting my focus towards building (with a top-notch team and great CEO, of course!) one of the top Entertainment App companies out there. In the process, I am still getting 5-10 people a week contacting me asking if I know anyone that does iPhone or Facebook Development. Quite frankly, finding someone to refer to is not an easy task! That is what I used to do, so it wasn’t something I was looking for (and I know there just aren’t many out there, as well, even with the high demand).

So, if you or someone you know does either iPhone or Facebook development, or work for a company that does, I want to make a deal with you or your company. I’ll send you these referrals for a commission on the deal you make with them. This is a win-win for all – I now have someone to send referrals to. You get the referrals and regular business, and the Clients now have someone they can get help from. Having written books on Facebook, and working for a company that does iPhone App development, along with this blog growing considerably and guest blogging on some of the top blogs on the internet, I get these requests regularly – I’d really like someone to send them to.

If you’re a developer, perhaps you’re starting to see the demand of Facebook and iPhone development. This is an excellent area to have knowledge in, in particular in a down economy. If you’d like to learn I do recommend you look at my book, FBML Essentials, and at the end of this month I’ll be doing a free webinar for O’Reilly in which I’ll cover beginning Facebook development. Stay tuned to this blog and I’ll reveal more details soon.

Know a Facebook or iPhone development company or developer? Shoot me an e-mail (or comment below): jesse at staynalive dot com or call me at (801) 853-8339. Also, if your business is in need of such work, give me a ring and I’ll point you in the right direction!

Facebook Applications See Success On the New Platform

facebook_pic.pngRegardless of any complaints from developers surrounding the new Facebook platform redesign, many developers are seeing success. Looking at various statistics from sites such as Adonomics and the Facebook Developers Forum, it appears that those apps that are truly integrating the new Integration points that the Facebook Platform provides are truly seeing success with it. Those apps that remain stagnant will see a decline in behavior.

Apps That are Seeing a Decline

Reviewing the apps complaining of the new design and showing declines in their numbers, it appears that many of them aren’t integrating into the new design where they are supposed to. I’ll use my own app as an example. “We’re Catholic!”, one of the religious apps I wrote and run (I also run “We’re Baptist”, “We’re Protestant”, and wrote the app, “The LDS App”) at one point was getting up to 1,000 visits per day (DAU’s, or Daily Active Users) as it was taking off (it is still currently the largest single group of organized Catholics on Facebook). Users began to get used to the Facebook platform, and that leveled it off to about 2-300 DAU’s per day. At launch of the new design, that number has gone down 1-200 DAU’s per day. What’s not being told in this picture is that I have done absolutely nothing to integrate it with the new design due to lack of time. I have no doubt that with a little integration into the user’s profile with a tab, and maybe info section, along with some Feed Forms to give users the option for larger stories to share with their friends from the app, I could very well see my app stats increase to even more than they were before.

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Pieces of Flair

app_1_3396043540_8126.gifThis seems to be the issue with some of the apps developers are complaining about. One example pointed out in the Facebook developer forums is the Pieces of Flair app, by RockYou. Looking at Adonomics statistics, it appears on September 4, the week the new design was put in place, Pieces of Flair took a dramatic turn from near 660,000 Daily Active Users down to around 350,000 DAU’s in just a matter of a day. They were stuck there until September 16, where their DAU’s went up to 570,000 in just a day, still far short from the 660,000 DAU’s they used to have. Then, on Sept 18, the DAU’s went back down to around 400,000. Looking at this statistic, it would appear that Pieces of Flair isn’t doing very well, and that the new Facebook Platform redesign is to blame. To know for sure though, you have to look at the timeline of events related to the App.

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Facebook Platform Timeline

September 4th, 2008 – New design launches to all

Looking at the history of the new design rollout, the new Facebook redesign was rolled out right on the week of September 4th, which would make the sharp downturn very understandable. At that point users were getting used to the new design and learning where things were.

September 10th, 2008 – Applications link moves

Right around September 10th or 11th it seems Facebook moved the “Applications” menu from the top down to the lower-left panel on Facebook. In addition, users could “bookmark” their favorite apps. Could Pieces of Flair have been one of those users were bookmarking? Other apps were bound to have seen a decrease because of this change.

September 16th, 2008 – Pieces of Flair makes changes

September 16th took some research to figure out. Looking at the forums on the Pieces of Flair About Page, several users started commenting about how it was now possible to add the app’s profile box to their “wall tab”. It’s unclear if they added a specific application tab at that point or not, but there was definitely an increase at that point, and it looks like it may be because of a change put in place to adapt to the new design by Pieces of Flair.

September 17, 2008 – One-line feed stories consolidated

On September 17, Facebook consolidated one-line feed stories that happened frequently for a single user in a day into one item in a user’s news feed. This would have reduced the visibility of some apps that updated frequently, perhaps explaining the slight decrease on the 18th.

Is it a Facebook Problem?

So, analyzing by date, it would appear that the biggest drops for Pieces of Flair may just be that Pieces of Flair wasn’t yet built for the new design when it was rolled out to members. Perhaps the new design isn’t to blame, but rather unpreparedness by developers of apps that are to blame for the decrease in traffic. Facebook announced the new design back in May, and developers have had since then to prepare – it would seem that this is a developer, not Facebook problem.

Apps Seeing an Increase

Regardless of the complaints, there are apps seeing an increase. While names weren’t mentioned, several developers in the Facebook developer forums posted stats that show such. Even Pieces of Flair we see is starting to show a gradual increase since feed stories were implemented.

We’re Related

app_1_5388815661_964.gifSome have shown significant increase though. One of the most significant is We’re Related, which went from 180,000 DAU’s to 460,000 DAU’s when the Applications menu was moved, an all-time high for them. It seems the only decrease they ever saw was right after the redesign was launched. Some developers are claiming they’re spammy, but based on the stats in association with the time-line it appears regardless of spammy measures or not, they’re increasing because users like them and are bookmarking them as a favorite – they shot up more than any other on the date Facebook implemented bookmarking. (disclaimer: they were a client of mine and I trained some of their developers and helped design their initial release, so there is some bias there, but the stats do coincide with what I’m saying. I hold no equity in the company.)

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Texas HoldEm Poker

app_1_2389801228_4683.gifAlso of note is the Texas HoldEm Poker game. One of the most popular apps on Facebook, it would seem they too have never seen much of a decrease in usage. They too saw a slight drop after the redesign, but, while not as significant as We’re Related, they are definitely higher in DAU’s than ever before.

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WaterCooler, Inc. and (lil) Green Patch

Some other Apps to look at are WaterCooler, Inc. (a conglomeration of many smaller apps), and (lil) Green Patch, all which have continued to show an increase, even after the new design. Of course, Facebook’s native apps have also shown significant increase after the new design, but they may be the exception in the fact that they get special promotion by Facebook in areas developers do not have access to, and are default for many people on Facebook.

Reasons for the Increase

As “DesignerMichael” put it in the Developer Forums, “The golden days will return in about a month though by my estimate. Users will finally start getting used to the new platform again by around then… So all is well. smile Just no more ridiculous changes please… Changing the location of bookmarks once a week is not good for apps. lol…”. It appears, based on the common drop amongst all the apps, that the major issue for developers is that users just haven’t gotten used to the new design yet. Assuming Facebook does not put any more changes in place, things will get back to normal.

In a communication via e-mail with Facebook, I was given the following message about the current state of the platform:

“We’ve seen a number of areas with greater engagement and sharing across the site, both on our own applications and on Facebook Platform. Daily and weekly active usage for applications have been on a healthy growth track for the past six months. Since the cut over began, aggregate Platform usage has continued to increase. The apps that have made the greatest effort to take advantage of the new integration opportunities are starting to see the results.”

Facebook is monitoring this. Without their developers, Facebook is not nearly as powerful as they are now. Currently developers are doing the marketing for Facebook and I’m sure Facebook recognizes that. However, it appears that in the end, as we see with the success of those apps that are seeing an increase, that it involves some work on behalf of the developer to happen. Some areas Facebook suggests are bringing more traffic to apps, or have the potential to do so are:

  • Deeper integration into the profile
  • Greater distribution through feeds
  • Easier for users to discover new apps
  • More meaningful user engagement
  • Customized application tabs

For developers of apps, you can bring your application to even higher Daily Active Users than before by simply finding new ways to integrate with the different points mentioned above. It is very possible to be successful on the new design, and now is the opportunity for new developers to come forth. We’re in a new race for popularity, and those apps that embrace the new features most will see the most success.

In FBML Essentials (O’Reilly), I cover some of the points of the Facebook platform new design components. You can purchase and review it here on Amazon.

5 Features Developers Will Like in the New Facebook Design

facebook_pic.pngI recently covered 5 general features most people may like in the new Facebook redesign being rolled out to all last week and this week. One of the biggest complaints of the new design is that it is bad for developers, reduces traffic to apps, and discourages users from using apps they have installed. While this is true for apps that haven’t adapted, there are still some very good features introduced by the new design, that, in my opinion, bring even more integration points to developers, and allow for more creativity to developers while still maintaining the user experience. I’d like to cover 5 of my favorites.

1. Your Application Now Gets an Entire Tab on the User’s profile

While profile boxes still remain, developers now have an additional option to create an entire tab devoted to your app on a user’s profile page. While you can’t advertise on this tab or monetize it in any way, the user profile page is the most traffic’d page on Facebook, and if you can grab a user’s attention by offering a little more information about your application and about the user themselves, other users are much more likely to engage and use the parts of your application you can monetize. More space to do this is a good thing, and the tab appearing on a user’s profile makes it appear as though your app is actually a part of their profile page. Consider this one giant advertisement for your application.

2. You can now allow users to share additional information about themselves via your application

Some of the most successful applications on Facebook are those that allow users to express themselves in certain ways. Applications that can allow a user to share more about themselves tend to be more engaging, and have a much more likely chance of a user sharing that application with their friends. Let’s face it – the days of an app spreading itself due to the new nature of the Facebook platform are long gone. Now, it is the developer’s responsibility to employ traditional marketing techniques to get the users to share these applications with their friends themselves.

The “info” tab is one way they can do this. Your application can give users an option to click on a simple button that allows them to add additional information to their “info” tab, provided by your application. Again, the profile is the most traffic’d place on Facebook, and this is an excellent way to get your app in front of a lot more people.

3. The new design is more organized, therefore giving your app more potential to be “one of few”

With the new design, most applications get organized into a “Boxes” tab on the user’s profile. This requires an additional click to learn about a user’s applications that they use. However, for applications that enable it, a user can optionally add any of those application boxes to their “wall” tab, putting it among just a few of their favorite applications for their friends to see and use.

If you can create an application that users will like, use, and want to share with their friends, the chances of your app appearing among those few are greater. I don’t have any numbers, but I really think there are only a few applications utilizing this feature right now, upping your chances even further of being one of those users like to feature on their “wall” tab. To me, this actually makes the potential for your app being successful even greater.

4. There are now 3 types of News/Mini Feed items your application can post

While your application can’t necessarily force news feed items to Facebook without the user’s explicate permission any more, you can utilize “feed forms” to allow the user to share one line posts to their mini feed, small summaries to their mini feed, or an entire story to their mini feed. If you can make your app useful enough to encourage the users to share the larger feeds (which were not available before), your app has a far greater chance of getting in the face of your users’ friends, encouraging even further virality. Not only that, but good marketing shows that when a user actually wants to share something, their friends are more likely to listen and participate. Giving your users choice is a very good thing, and will result in a much more devoted audience in the future.

5. With the new design, you can now deploy FBML, right in an iFrame

A new feature established in Facebook Connect enables any website to utilize the Facebook Javascript Client Library to allow a developer with an app set up to parse and load FBML on any page on the web. This means that you can now load FBML right in your iFrame’d pages.

Why use FBML? FBML will guarantee, as Facebook changes their look and feel, that you don’t have to change your look and feel with them. It all happens automatically. Before this, Facebook required all FBML to be loaded and parsed on their servers. Now you can load it directly on your own servers, which means greater flexibility with Javascript, more options when integrating with other platforms like OpenSocial, and less coding overall since Facebook takes care of the details for you. Best of all, you can implement this on any website, even outside of Facebook, and with Facebook Connect, you can even authenticate and retrieve data from Facebook for users, right on your own website! You can learn more about FBML via my book, FBML Essentials (shameless plug).

While I understand the frustration of developers with the new design, and especially the fact that applications aren’t quite as in-your-face as they used to and can’t do things as easily on behalf of users, overall I think this is a good thing for the overall Facebook experience. Now Facebook has provided more integration points for developers than ever before, while at the same time making the experience better for users, making users want to continue coming back to the network. Users coming back is always a good thing for your application on Facebook.

What are your favorite features, as a developer, within the new design?

Win a Free Book! Enter O’Reilly’s Facebook App Idea Competition.

fbml_essentials_comp.pngO’Reilly just published a great interview with me on their FYI blog. If you want to learn why my book, FBML Essentials is important to you as a Facebook developer or business looking to develop Facebook applications, you should check it out. At the end, Mary Rotman announced a competition that could get you a free copy of my book, straight from O’Reilly.

Here’s the deal: regardless of whether you’re a Facebook developer or not, all you need is an idea. Let’s consider this the pre-cursor to getting your fbFund money — I’ll show you how to get started making the app, fbFund will fund the way. Simply go to O’Reilly’s FYI post and enter in the comments the application you would build (or are building) and how it’s different from the rest of the hundreds of Facebook applications out there. The best one or two ideas get a free copy of FBML Essentials – bring it to the next Social Media conference that I’m at and I’ll even sign it for you! How cool is that???

Just in Time for F8, O’Reilly’s First Book on Facebook Development Released

fbml_essentials_comp.pngI’m proud to announce that this week, just in time for Facebook F8 and OSCON, my book, FBML Essentials, will be available for purchase in print at most book stores. You can purchase it on Amazon here (be sure to leave a review!). It is scheduled to ship this Thursday, July 24th. You can also check it out online right now via O’Reilly’s Safari book store.

Some of the biggest Facebook bloggers and experts in the industry have also contributed their thoughts. Nick O’Neill, of AllFacebook.com and SocialTimes.com, contributed the Foreword for the book. Rodney Rumford, of FaceReviews.com and Gravitational Media, contributed the Afterword for the book. Justin Smith, of InsideFacebook.com and WaterCooler, was generous enough to provide a quote for the back cover (we’re hoping it made it in – I’m told it has). I’d like to thank them for their contribution.

FBML Essentials is essentially a very simple “nutshell” book that should give you all you need to get started with Facebook development in the FBML tag language, minus the API itself. It covers a howto on creating Apps from start to finish, using simple HTML and FBML to get a simple App off the ground. I go over different quirks with HTML and Javascript in regards to how Facebook parses them. I also cover the way Facebook talks to your servers, and provide a few suggestions on where to host and how to get set up properly and make your App viral. The final one half or so of the book is a thorough reference of almost (Facebook just added 2 more tags last week) every single tag Facebook provides, including examples, sample HTML that Facebook renders, and more. I even cover some unknowns (while maybe not so useful, but fun regardless) such as the tag, and tag. (yes, there are such tags, and as of the writing they work!)

If you are a web developer considering learning Facebook development, this book is a great start, and should point you in the right direction on where to go afterwards. If you’re already a Facebook developer, this book will be a great addition to your book collection, and you should be able to refer back to it often as a reference as you see need.

I imagine with today’s launch of the new Facebook design many may be wondering if the book is already out of date. Actually, I was able to get some of the last minute changes in response to the new design out in just the last 2 weeks, so this book is very up to date – O’Reilly has been wonderful to work with for this project.

Looking to learn how to write software on Facebook? FBML Essentials is a great start – pre-order yours now! Look for me at Facebook’s F8 conference this Wednesday – I’ll be shooting video, qik’ing if possible, and live-blogging where I can. Say hi if you see me around!

Amazon S3 Outage Affecting Book Sales

Picture 7.pngI was just writing a post about my new book on Facebook development, FBML Essentials, being released, when I realized Amazon’s problems right now are much bigger than S3. Previously, if I did a search for “Facebook“, an entire list of books would display, including my first book. Currently, it returns nothing. Searching for “I’m on Facebook–Now What???” also returns nothing. At this point, I’m not quite sure what gets returned via search on Amazon.

Amazon is currently losing I’m sure thousands of dollars in sales as their site is having some unknown, perhaps S3-related issue. The problem is, not only are they losing money, but so are the authors and distributors selling through their site. It’s my hope that they get this resolved soon and can get things back in order. Is anyone seeing other things that are down related to this outage?

Update: it appears to be back up again, so the outage seems to be sporadic, perhaps a caching issue?

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Facebook Announces F8 In the Middle of OSCON, Coincidence?

l11204705797_2531.pngJust yesterday, Facebook announced their second F8 conference, to occur July 23, 2008. This Developer-targeted event is said to possibly include some major announcements, including the new Profile redesign, more information about the fbOpen platform, and most significantly, possibly the launch of their E-Commerce platform. What hasn’t been announced or shared however is the odd timing of the event.

The event occurs right smack dab in the middle of O’Reilly’s Open Source Convention, scheduled to occur for about the past year now from July 21 through July 25. This conference is known as an essential “Mecca” for Open Source developers around the globe, and has presentations from such players as Google, MySQL, Sun, Meebo, and even SixApart. Everyone who is a developer (unless you solely develop for Microsoft) or Sysadmin will be at this conference.

As a developer, this is tough news to hear that Facebook will make me choose between OSCON and them. Frankly, I would by default choose OSCON if I were any smart developer, as I would get more. So why isn’t Facebook just joining OSCON and doing an “F8” track there? Do they really want to tick off Open Source developers? You better bet that OpenSocial will have a presence there. If Facebook really wanted to target the Open Source crowd, as they have “claimed” to do with their fbOpen Platform and a few other contributions back to the community, they would try to have a presence at this conference and not interrupt it as they are currently doing. I was actually going to go to OSCON to promote my FBML Essentials book to potential Facebook developers for O’Reilly. Now I’m forced with a decision. I’ve contacted Facebook with no response, and I’m getting a little frustrated as a Social Media developer. Which conference will you choose?

It’s Official, Facebook Releases Their Platform, Open Source and All

Nick O’Neill blogged about it, and Facebook confirmed it officially at the Palo Alto 1 Year Anniversary Developers Garage on Thursday, but Facebook has finally released their platform under a modified version of the Mozilla Public License. The code and announcement can be found here, and includes the full API, a parser for FBML, and more. I will probably be trying to sneak in a little info about this in FBML Essentials if I can beat it to press.

What does this mean for you? Well, first of all, there is a good chance (I have not confirmed this) you’ll now see sites like Myspace and LinkedIn also join sites like Bebo in providing a Facebook-style API. It should be an easy decision for them. This also means you are not stuck porting your Apps over to OpenSocial to get them on those networks, assuming they implement this into their own architecture. Ideally, it will take very few changes to port a Facebook App over to other FbPlatform-enabled sites.

Also, if you are building your own social network, you can now cater to all the Facebook developers out there and bring in the rich API Facebook provides. OpenSocial is great, but you do have to keep in mind it is still in beta – while new, I see no “beta” put in front of this new Facebook Open Platform.

The other thing you should take into account is that because it is Open Source, you can now contribute back to the platform. If you see something in the platform that is strongly needed, you simply have to sign the Contribution Agreement they provide and if they implement your change they’ll even send you a (drum roll please) T-Shirt! (they didn’t say if the T-Shirt was free or not) In reality though, we as developers now have some responsibility to give back to Facebook – that is the essence of Open Source.

I think Facebook just played their cards for Google on this one. Their environment is still closed, but at the very least they are sharing the components that make their closed environment so the world too can get involved. Google now has much stronger pressure to get OpenSocial in order, and in a way that convinces the Facebook platform developers to use OpenSocial instead of the Facebook Open Platform. It’s a race for developers, and I’m afraid Facebook just made the choice for developers to leap to OpenSocial a lot harder.

My Trip to Google I/O

logo.pngTomorrow evening I’ll be heading off to Google I/O at the Moscone Center in San Francisco. I’m very excited to look over the various new technologies Google is offering, including OpenSocial, Google App Engine (keep an eye out for Bungee Labs, the competitor to App Engine – I hear they’re planning to make an appearance there), and hopefully I’ll get a first chance to play with Google FriendConnect. I’m hoping to take quite a bit back so I can apply it to the work I’m doing for Takes All Types to transition them over to OpenSocial.

While I’m out there, look out for me the next few nights. Tomorrow evening, probably late, I’ll be visiting the WordPress 5th Anniversary at the Minna Gallery. That should be quite a fun event, and I look forward to meeting Matt Mullenweg and crew again. Then, Wednesday night, be sure to come out to the Silicon Valley Web Builders meeting, where I’ll be speaking to about 100-150 developers and such with an interest in Facebook and Social Media development. There, I’ll be speaking about a few tags you probably weren’t aware of in FBML, and we’ll go over some fun FBML facts, as well as discuss some of the latest news we’re seeing about Facebook lately. I also hear a local news reporter will be there, so the pressure is on. I’ll have a number of copies of my first book, “I’m On Facebook–Now What???” there for you to purchase, and I’m happy to autograph any copies you buy – if you haven’t yet RSVP’d please do so now!

The final event, Thursday night, is the Palo Alto Facebook Developers meeting. That meeting looks to be jam packed with developers, Facebook enthusiasts, and investors, from Jim Breyer, to Lee Lorenzen, to Justin Smith of InsideFacebook, to Dave Morin of Facebook, it seems anyone that has anything to do with Facebook will be there. They will be celebrating the 1 year platform anniversary, going over the new design and how that will affect developers. I anticipate some announcements out of that meeting, although I can’t say for sure.

So if your out in the area, stop by and say hi! I’m @jessestay on Twitter and FriendFeed – give me a holler and maybe we can go get some Thai or Seafood (my two favorite San Fran cuisines!) together. I look forward to seeing you all there!

New Series: Social Coding

I’ve been contemplating for awhile now a good way to share what I know about Social Software Development and helping business owners, marketers, and developers learn how to set up their own social apps. Especially for developers, I know there are many out there looking for howtos and ways to learn more about starting their own App, promoting it, and getting it off the ground. As the author of FBML Essentials, I feel I am well suited for the task so in the next few days I’m going to start doing howtos and overviews on how you can get your own Apps together. If you’re “the business type”, I may get a little technical on you, but I do recommend you keep watching and forward these onto your IT personell – your CIO, CTO, and the like should read these so they can learn what’s possible to integrate into your existing environments. I’ll also try to throw in a little goodie here and there for “the business type”.

So, I’ve created a new category to the right, “Social Coding” – if you want to track just that, click on the category name and add it to your RSS. I’ve also started a new FriendFeed Room where those involved or that want to get involved in Social Coding can discuss, learn, and talk with each other. You can subscribe to that here.

Let’s start by going over the types of sites I could cover. Here are just a few – let me know if you have a particular interest in learning about how to code for any one in particular:

  • Facebook
  • OpenSocial
  • Google Friend Connect
  • Twitter
  • FriendFeed
  • Pligg
  • Digg
  • LinkedIn
  • MySpace
  • WordPress
  • MoveableType
  • Google App Engine
  • Bungee Connect

Stay tuned! I’ll keep posting news and other rants as we go forward – I’ll just be adding in some good howtos at the same time. Oh, and if you’re a developer and would like to do a howto in your preferred language for us, contact me – I’d love to let you do a guest post.