Instant Analysis: Digesting the Implications of Today’s Platform Roadmap Announcements

We’re here at Facebook headquarters, where Ethan Beard, Director of Platform Marketing, just delivered Facebook’s first-ever “platform roadmap” presentation to developers. There were a couple hundred developers, from the largest to the smallest, in the room as well. Here’s our instant digest of today’s announcements and what they mean for developers and the Platform ecosystem.

Removal of notification and request APIs, migration to inbox, and creation of email API – This is one of the biggest changes for developers who’ve designed and optimized their applications for Facebook’s current communication channels. Notifications and invitations are going away, and are being split up and migrated into 1) inbox messages for user-to-user communication, and 2) emails for app-to-user communication.

Applications that have optimized their viral growth or engagement flows for notifications and requests could potentially experience big traffic declines obviously. Now, there is no more default-on application-to-user communication channel, though developers will be encouraged to establish email contact with users directly. This means the News Feed will become more important, as it is now the only default-on one-to-many channel. Facebook says the changes are expected to go live by the end of the year or early next. All developers should start making plans to rethink and reoptimize immediately.

End of verification program, and expansion of policy enforcement team – This marks the third evolution of Facebook’s platform policy enforcement efforts. In the beginning, Facebook applied purely algorithmic measures to limit developers’ access to viral channels when they got too spammy. Then, it built up a policy enforcement team to research and apply punitive measures to spammy apps, and created “Great App” and “Verified App” programs to incentivize apps that lived up to platform ideals and principles. Now, it’s removing that carrot, simplifying its policies from “14 pages to 3,” and reserving the right to apply “verified app principles” across all platform applications. This means slightly greater operational expenses for Facebook, and more emails from the policy enforcement team, but should lead to higher application quality across the platform.

Profile boxes going away – Finishing what it started last year, application boxes are getting removed from the profile page completely. This doesn’t come as a big surprise. In addition, application tabs are narrowing to around 560 pixels.

Application bookmarks moving to the left of the News Feed – The new real estate for application bookmarks, reminiscent of Facebook’s design of old, should mean bookmarks will become more valuable tools for reengagement. Few users could find app bookmarks in their old location. Also, it looks like stream filters may become less visible, based on what’s been shared to far.

Application counters – This is a new channel for developers that will help with reengagement for bookmarked apps significantly. Developers will benefit from increased bookmark click-throughs via the “whack-a-mole” feed-reader-like effect it could create. However, these counters won’t be surfaced anywhere else, so this new API will make the biggest difference for apps that have been bookmarked by a lot of users.

Application and game dashboards – Facebook is giving some prominent real estate (i.e. bookmarks) to the new application and game dashboards. This could help with application reengagement and discovery. On the dashboards, Facebook will show users what apps they’ve engaged with lately, as well as what apps their friends are engaging in, much like the current app directory.

Application branding on canvas pages – This is a nice touch that could help game developers create more branded environments that aren’t always framed in Facebook blue.

Open Graph API – This is a bigger idea for Facebook, who wants to bring more websites into the Facebook ecosystem. With the open graph API, any developer can register their website as an “object” in Facebook’s social graph, which users can then become a fan of. Webmasters and publishers can then publish content to users’s News Feeds through the stream publishing APIs. This means that Facebook could become a more important distribution channel for publishers even if they don’t have a Facebook Page – which could be very powerful for both Facebook and publishers in general.

Going Forward

Beard said before his presentation today that everything presented today is not set in stone – but Facebook has laid out timelines for each of these changes on its just published Developer Roadmap (most of the changes announced today are slated to go live by the end of the year). Clearly, it will take some time for developers to digest this information and make the appropriate adjustments, but ultimately, Facebook is trying to increase the fidelity of its communication channels to keep overall engagement across Facebook and the platform high. We’ll have more soon.