Facebook Follows Up to Viral Growth with Official Announcement

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Facebook LogoLast week, just after the announcement of the Facebook Platform, I penned an article detailing its results for users. I argued that Facebook hadn’t briefed their users properly, leaving the most important participants of their new program out in the cold. The only explanation for their lack of communication with users was a soft launch, intended to (in my words) “iron out kinks…before fully bringing the Platform online.” During the past week, I’ve witnessed the viral spread of applications.

My news feed, typically cluttered with new photos, notes, etc. has been full of notifications that friends have added new applications. All of this has occurred purely through viral growth without an official announcement from Facebook. The Facebook users I’ve spoken to typically have had a very small grasp on the concept of the Platform. Most don’t even know there is an Application Directory. Instead, they add only applications that their friends has added — and creates an impact on them through the various news feeds.

The Announcement: A Soft Launch

Facebook's Announcement

Facebook’s Announcement to Users

That should all change today. Facebook, with an announcement on their blog, has simultaneously briefed their entire userbase about the Platform. The announcement was brilliantly written by Facebook’s Director of Products, Katie Geminder, conveying both the impact and scope of Facebook’s announcement, along with the numerous steps that are being taken to preserve the privacy Facebook users have come to expect.

So, why the late launch? As expected, Facebook kept the announcement from users for a week “in order to give all the new applications and functionality — on our side and on the developers’ side — time to breathe and grow virally.” As an avid user of Facebook and numerous applications, I applaud their soft launch. Prior to today, the select number of Facebook users utilizing Applications have dealt with numerous server crashes and errors. Hopefully, this limited trial of sorts has helped Facebook and application developers fix any errors they encountered during the last week. In addition, this cushion period between the actual launch of the platform and the official announcement has given independent developers time to create their own applications to complement those that were developed in partnership with Facebook prior to the launch of the Platform.

Facebook's Top Toolbar

Facebook’s Top Toolbar, the “Core” Components of the Facebook Experience

Core Utilities vs. ApplicationsFacebook's App List

Large emphasis in the article is based on the difference between core utilities of Facebook and applications. Core utilities, contends Facebook, are those that appear on the top of the newly redesigned Facebook interface, the profile, friends, networks, and messaging inbox.

Applications, however, are those that aren’t critical to your Facebook interaction, those items that help to enhance the user experience such as Facebook Photos and Facebook Groups (login required for both applications). The social graph of Facebook, an often talked about concept, is what makes Facebook and its applications useful to users. Facebook utilizes people’s real connections and has the social graph, the “increasingly powerful connections that people use to communicate.”

Facebook’s Applications and those recently developed are useful precisely for that reason. Finally, Facebook has offered its users an opportunity to unify their web experience, whether it’s sharing their statuses with the Twitter application, the 30 Boxes application, or any one of dozens of Applications. Facebook’s announcement was clear to differentiate between widgets and applications, noting that they provide developers full access to many different facets of Facebook with the newly developed FQL (Facebook Query Language) and the opportunity to develop full-blown applications, not severly limited widgets like those on MySpace.

Twitter App in Facebook

Twitter’s Facebook Application Provides Full Interaction, Not Just Widget Usability

Privacy Precautions

Once again, Facebook distinguishes itself with privacy and design features as well. Clearly outlined in Facebook’s announcement is the fact that users must click to activate flash objects in order to have them function properly. This way, Facebook users won’t encounter the terrible autoplaying songs, etc. often featured on MySpace profiles. Privacy is directly addressed in the message as well, and Facebook notes that everything is strictly opt-in. Information will never be shared with outside parties unless users explicitly click a button to add an application to their account. Facebook has also added their typical stringent privacy controls to the Platform, once again distinguishing themselves from MySpace andother social networks.

Facebook's Privacy Controls

Facebook’s Privacy Control Panel for Applications

Opinion

Facebook’s announcement is a master stroke after the institution of a terrific new feature of Facebook, the Platform. Once again, the company has strategized brilliantly, giving their Platform time to grow before opening the floodgates to all of Facebook. This announcement is only the beginning. Facebook’s Platform has given thousands of developers the opportunity to tap into the social graphs of an unprecedented number of people. The future is bright for Facebook, and for the thousands of companies taking advantage of the new tools Facebook has provided them with.


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