Zuckerberg aims to tie Facebook into the app world

The world's largest social network is creating features and tools designed to attract mobile device developers, as it works to offer all things to all people.

Ian Sherr Former Editor at Large / News
Ian Sherr (he/him/his) grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, so he's always had a connection to the tech world. At CNET, he wrote about Apple, Microsoft, VR, video games and internet troubles. Aside from writing, he tinkers with tech at home, is a longtime fencer -- the kind with swords -- and began woodworking during the pandemic.
Ian Sherr
3 min read

SAN FRANCISCO -- A year ago, Mark Zuckerberg walked on a San Francisco stage promising a better relationship between Facebook and app developers. On Wednesday, he followed through.

As CEO of the world's largest social network, Zuckerberg touted initiatives designed to make Facebook a go-to service for the world's app developers. Speaking as the opening act for Facebook's F8 developer conference here, Zuckerberg said he's pleased with his company's strides to deliver consistent and less buggy software. He also announced new tools, including technology that lets users send videos using Facebook's Messenger communication service.

"People need to be able to express everything that matters to them with all the communities they care about," Zuckerberg said, to a conference hall packed with developers and reporters.

At Facebook, the idea of expression has become as important as product design is at Apple. Zuckerberg speaks of people's abilities to express themselves as the thing that sets Facebook apart from other titans in Silicon Valley. The public's trust in Facebook will also drive their continued use of the service. When he talks about the company's efforts to expand Internet access into developing countries like India, Ghana and Colombia, he usually touts how Facebook will spur people to more openly communicate with one another.

App developers seem to be responding to Team Zuckerberg. Eighty of the top 100 apps use Facebook's services, and an increasing number are also tying into its advertising and development tools. That's important for Facebook because the more things people can do in its social network -- from uploading photos, playing games and sharing articles -- the more Facebook becomes ingrained in daily life. And that, in turn, should attract more advertisers.

There's also pressure on Facebook to keep introducing new ideas, largely to keep developers' attention. "They can't afford to idly sit by and bank on the goodwill of their very large user base," said Brian Blau, an analyst at Gartner. "If they're not advancing themselves, if they're not giving their user base enough to do and if they're not expanding their app ecosystem, then they're quickly becoming irrelevant."

Refinement vs. innovation

Aside from Facebook's dedication to Messenger, the company also rolled out several new initiatives that were clearly aimed at competitors. These include new tools to help app developers test and closely watch how consumers use their programs. The service is similar to those offered by Yahoo's Flurry, App Annie and Twitter, among others.

That's also true of Facebook's new video features that make it easier for websites to incorporate videos from the social network. This feature has been a key technology for Google's YouTube, which is now the third most visited site in the world, behind Facebook and Google itself, according to industry watcher Alexa.

Each announcement showed Zuckerberg is keenly aware the company needs to continually expand its suite of technology tools to help app developers make money and give people a reason to spend more time using the service.

"Fundamentally we want to talk to developers and understand their needs," said Mike Vernal, who heads up Facebook's engineering and developer tools. "There are way more things developers need than we have today."