Universally celebrated by both users and programmers, Facebook’s decision to open up its ecosystem to developers certainly spiced up a social network formerly known for its cool way of tagging photos. Now you can superpoke me, Flixster or Flickr, read my fortune (or horoscope), PET MY LOLCAT (PURR!), digg! me, pirate music that you iLike, and stalk me all over the globe.
And you can do all of this from your comfy 1024 x 768 pixel easy-chair, branded with that trustworthy (heck, it must be safe – your friends are all here!) blue and white Facebook design motif.
And therein lies the problem, at least with the initial batch of applications; they’re so uniform, void of individuality as they all pipe the same tune of riches through Facebook monetization (?). Some of these apps do too much, trying to recreate the well-designed functionality of their full-blown website, but tamed in an awkward foreign environment.
On one hand, I commend Facebook on the (calculated) courage it took to lead the anti-myspace dance and embrace an open platform. Their API would make any VC firm salivate since their web 2.0 investment can now interact with 25+ million users (”fantastic demographics for our advertisers!”) through special text markup and custom database queries (”FQL” makes me snicker).
However, third party applications would be better served by focusing on the golden nugget offered by Facebook, which is the “network of friends” and the viral opportunity presented by “news feeds”. If Johnny sent Sarah a free gift, it must be worth something and I must click on the free gift application and send one to Marcus right now!
Just as Twitter’s gift to the community was the text messaging infrastructure, Facebook blessed us with the social network infrastructure and viral nature easily leveraged by existing websites to drive up their page impressions.
So instead of reproducing your website’s functionality on Facebook, write a Facebook application to be a simple “dashboard”, highlighting how a user’s network of friends interacts with your website.
You might consider headings like:
- Most active friends in your network
- Recent reviews by friends in your network
- Photos (or artists or books) most popular in your network
The items under the headings would link to the appropriate page on the destination website. This way, logging onto Facebook is all about checking your friends’ updates (as usual) on your start page and then maybe clicking on a few of these (new) applications to see what your friends are watching, reading or listening to, depending on the nature of the application. The Facebook application acts as a quick preview, but if you want more detail, click a link to visit a separate website.
In effect, Facebook becomes your social aggregator – an easy to read dashboard into your friends’ lives.