Facebook woos developers with a road map

The social-networking company unveils what it's up to in the next three to six months so that developers can plan to add new things to their apps.

Josh Lowensohn Former Senior Writer
Josh Lowensohn joined CNET in 2006 and now covers Apple. Before that, Josh wrote about everything from new Web start-ups, to remote-controlled robots that watch your house. Prior to joining CNET, Josh covered breaking video game news, as well as reviewing game software. His current console favorite is the Xbox 360.
Josh Lowensohn
5 min read
Facebook's Ethan Beard outlines what the company is up to in the next six months. CNET / Josh Lowensohn

PALO ALTO, Calif.--Facebook on Wednesday took the wraps off its brand new development road map, unveiling changes and features the company is planning to implement within the next three to six months.

Many of the changes are smaller, simply rearrangements of certain parts of the user interface. However, the company is also making some radical moves like enforcing badly written applications and enabling developers to acquire user e-mail addresses as well as create Facebook-like sites outside of the social network's walls.

Ethan Beard, Facebook's director of platform marketing, who gave the presentation in Facebook's headquarters here, said that the one thing the company kept hearing from developers was that they needed to know what the company was working on ahead of time--and not just for short-term development, but a year down the line. "You want to know what's going on inside of Facebook," he said. "And today is to provide you with a lot more predictability."

That predictability revolves around the company's road map, which now sits on a new developer site. Beard says that it will remain updated with new items, planned changes, and APIs as they are announced. The company is also making publicly available a bug list, which will show developers problems with the site that Facebook is working on, as well as how they are being prioritized to be fixed.

The changes for users

The new user navigation menu takes place of the long bar that used to sit on the bottom of the page. Facebook

So what are some of the big changes users will see? The first is that Facebook is doing away with many of the visual and organization changes it's made in the last two years. That includes the removal of the Windows Start bar-like app launcher and notification bar that sat at the bottom of the page. That's being moved over to the left side of the page where things like filters currently reside.

The new navigation bar will house new quick jumps to menus for both games and applications--something for which Facebook is making a notable distinction. Both will serve as a way for users to get a bird's-eye view of what's happening in games or the applications they've been using, as well as what their friends are up to. The company will also be making it easier for users to add third-party applications to the left side navigation bar with some new code that makes it a one-click affair.

Alongside the new left side navigation Facebook is also trying to make more of a distinction between notifications that are from apps and those that are sent from other users. This change involves taking notifications out of the sometimes-dreaded notification box (which will be soon be getting the ax) and giving developers a new way to notify users with alert badges that pop up as counters. And for notifications that are sent from other users, these will soon be found in users' Facebook in-boxes instead.

The changes for developers

One of the biggest upcoming changes for developers deals with Facebook's level of user privacy protection. The company will be letting users give app developers their e-mail address. In return they can remove their own Facebook in-box from app notification equation. This also applies to Facebook Connect, so third-party companies that use it for log-ins can send important messages directly to a user's primary e-mail instead of their Facebook in-box where it might get lost.

The Connect program will also be joined by a new developer API called Open Graph that essentially lets site owners create a page on any Web site that has the same features as one of Facebook's fan pages. These will allow users to sign up to be a fan with their Facebook credentials and use parts of the site as if they were on Facebook proper. In turn, their actions will be able to show up on their Facebook profile and news feeds. Beard said that the Open Graph API is simply a continuation of the move to add Facebook objects as well as people to third-party sites. "The graph does not necessarily have to exist in facebook," he said. "It can also live on the Web."

Facebook is improving its analytics with a new system that developers can use with third-party analytics tools. CNET / Josh Lowensohn

Fan pages are not the only thing to escape Facebook's walled garden though. Beard outlined the company's plans to offer developers a way to view a deeper level of analytics for their apps. The reports, which Beard says are much better than the Facebook's current Insight system, will be able to be sent to third-party analytics engines where they can be stacked up alongside performance metrics Facebook wouldn't have otherwise been able to provide.

Keeping bad developers out

Besides some cosmetic and back-end changes, Facebook is also stepping up how it handles developers and applications that don't conform to the site's rules and regulations. Part of that is simplifying its platform policies from 14 pages to just three. Beard says the extraneous language has been cut down, so that hopefully more people will read it.

In addition to policy, Facebook is doing away with its six-month-old verified apps program in place of verifying every single app that passes a certain use threshold. This means that Facebook is going to be evaluating every app on its service to make sure it meets the company's guidelines and getting rid of ones that might have otherwise flown under the radar.

Other tidbits

•  Facebook canvas pages are now getting a special blue bar on top that removes much of the Facebook branding and user interface. Beard said that the move was largely to help developers make their canvas pages more immersive.
•  Profile boxes will be disappearing, and tabs will be slightly more narrow.
•  The new Facebook games tab may implement leader boards
•  Facebook is reworking its friends selector so that when a user is picking friends to invite or send a message, it will let them use the same filters they use to group their friends. Facebook is also working on a way to suggest a shortlist of users based on recent, or overall activity.
•  Developers will be getting a live view into the Facebook Platform status. This is kind of like Twitter's status blog and will show all known problems as well as how hard Facebook's APIs are being hit.

More information about the new developer APIs can be found on Facebook's developer site.