Here is a quick roundup of a couple of recent interesting widget news and trends:
User interface changes ushered in by the new Facebook have significantly impacted Facebook application developers and users alike and has prompted numerous complaints from both camps. Changes to the Facebook API, the application workflow and overall application functionality is forcing developers to change the way they build and deploy FB apps. Here are some of the big changes:
- Adding Facebook Applications has Become a Chore!
The new Facebook user interface almost does away with the idea of “adding application”. In the new Facebook, you “access applications” and once inside an application you can “bookmark” it (Note: FB now also “remembers” recent applications). Unfortunately the process of bookmarking isn’t intuitive and can easily be missed. The only way to bookmark an application is to use the toolbar at the bottom of the screen and to make matters worse the toolbar only shows the last 7 bookmarked applications.
- Profile Boxes are More Miss than Hit
In the original Facebook once you added an application, a profile box would by default be added to your profile, unfortunately in the new Facebook this is not the case. First of all, you must explicitly add a profile box yourself. Secondly, unless you want a super thin profile box, your box will most likely live in the Boxes tab, hidden from most visitors. The only plus in the new Facebook is the ability for developers to enable an application tab, unfortunately the API restricts the type of information the tab has access to.
- Forget the Application Directory
There are just too many applications in Facebook’s application directory and the submission process is unpredictable and usually long. Additionally, Facebook’s terms of service disallow certain types of advertising that will get many ad-driven applications kicked out.
So what do these changes mean for application developers? Here are some Facebook application development best practices you may want to consider in your next app:
- Shift the Focus from Profile Boxes to News Feeds
With the new Facebook, profile boxes are out and news feeds are in! Application needs to be more about communication, notifications and updates than sticking “stuff” in profile boxes. Chances are your profile box may never be seen by a visitor, so you cannot depend on visitors seeing and acting on information in a user’s profile box. Instead, focus on creating “chatty applications” that post news on relevant user interaction to their news feeds and enabling user to user notification, email and communication.
- Market it – Spread the Love via a URL
As I mentioned, being included in the application directory isn’t what it used to be! Additionally, with the growing number of applications being submitted daily, the approval process is becoming longer and longer. As a result, we encourage clients to promote their applications directly inside and outside of Facebook. Companies are using their websites, email marketing, fan pages, social ads and other forms of advertising to promote their Facebook apps more effectively. Have your promotions link back to your FB app. Encourage users to invite friends (both inside and outside Facebook) and finally leverage your existing user base to carry your application into Facebook where it can spread and drive traffic back to your site.
- Invite Outside the System
Facebook limit the number of friends a user can invite (currently around 20), but there is nothing that prevents you from enabling users to invite friends “outside of Facebook” (the same way social networks do). Note: Facebook recently announced they are adding this feature to their standard invitation process.
- Share, Share, Share
Make it easy for users to share your content using Facebook’s share button or other similar mechanisms. There are currently no limits on the amount of content you can share, additionally visitors do not need to add or access your application in order to share your content! Also consider other forms of “sharing” content such as email and bookmarking to get the word out.
- Help Users do the Right Thing
By default, we usually add extensive help within all of the Facebook applications we develop. These help pages instruct users how to bookmark applications, add boxes to their profile and add application tabs to their profiles. We suggest developers provided both inline help and even an entire page dedicated to helping users navigate the new Facebook and properly “add their application”.
- Make it Socially Engaging!
Despite the new Facebook UI changes, don’t forget to make your application social engaging! The most successful applications enable and encourage community and communication. Avoid self-promotional application that simply advertise your services or products without a community or social element! Try and understand your users and provide them with a compelling value proposition to use your application!
It seems everyone wants a quick and easy way to get their content or widgets on Facebook and other social networks, so naturally people sometimes assume that widget distribution engines like Clearspring and Gigya automatically get your content to these sites – this is usually not the case. Here are a couple of things to keep in mind about the limitations of using ClearSpring to “share” widgets on Facebook:
- The Facebook link in the ClearSpring sharing menu does not by default publish your widget as a application on Facebook (see below). This “Post to My Feed” feature is very lacking!
- The only way to get a Flash Widget onto Facebook is to wrap your widget in a Facebook application. You can develop (or have someone develop) that from scratch or if you already have a ClearSpring widget, you can try using the ClearSpring wizard to publish your widget (but it has its limitations)
- Widgets ported using the ClearSpring wizard cannot be customized, so there are is no way to remedy some of the limitations (limited news feed support for example)
ClearSpring Facebook Publishing Illustrated:
Getting Your Widget on Facebook: Alternative Approaches
Facebook is a lot more than a “widget platform”. In fact, unlike MySpace, Facebook doesn’t really lend itself well to supporting widgets of any kind (even Flash-based widgets). The best and most effective approach to “porting your widget” to Facebook is really to rebuild it as a Facebook application.
With the new user interface changes on Facebook, sticking Flash-content in a user’s Boxes tab isn’t very viral, and chances, few visitors will ever see it. Tommorrow I will spend some time discussing how to build Facebook applications that more effectively leverage the New Facebook user interface.