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Will “Apps For Timeline” Make Facebook The Next Major Apps Ecosystem?
Last night Facebook formally launched the previously announced “Apps for Timeline.” If you’re Zynga CEO Mark Pincus (or one of a handful of other high profile publishers) then you’d probably argue that apps on Facebook have been wildly successful. But for most publishers and developers apps have not done quite as well. However this new “distribution mechanism” — the embedding of apps in Facebook Timeline — is almost certain to be much more effective.
A new “app store” to rival Apple, Google?
In fact Facebook could ultimately become another “app store” to rival the major mobile app marketplaces — although that remains to be seen. Others have argued that Facebook was readying a “challenge” for Apple and Google as an apps platform. This is clearly it, albeit in slightly different form than perhaps anticipated.
Apps for Timeline was briefly introduced last night in low-key fashion by Carl Sjogreen, Director of Facebook’s platform initiative. He was previously the founder and CEO of nextstop.com, before it was “acquhired” by Facebook in late 2010. Prior to that Sjogreen, like so many at Facebook these days, was at Google.
Thousands — even “hundreds of thousands” — of apps
At launch, there are 60 developer-publisher partners with apps in what’s effectively the Facebook App Store. Among them are: Yahoo, Foodspotting, Polyvore, Hulu, Gogobot, StubHub, LivingSocial and numerous others. Facebook says that these apps will better enable users to express themselves and “tell their personal stories” on Timeline. And the company envisions a future of many thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of Timeline apps.
In one view of the world, nothing has changed for Facebook except the presentation and placement of apps. However I think it’s justified to call this launch “Facebook Apps 2.0.” It could also become one of the primary answers to the “app discovery problem” now so widely lamented by mobile developers. Indeed exposure on Facebook Timeline will be a form of app “SEO.”
Mobile and monetization
I asked Facebook CTO Brett Taylor whether Apps for Timeline would equally be available in mobile. He said that everything would appear in mobile and suggested it would be as good or better an experience than on the PC. I also asked Taylor about an “app store” or gallery. One could argue that Facebook has already created one. He said that “would probably make sense” at some point.
In terms of monetization — the question every cynical journalist wants to ask — there will be none at this point. There are ads on the right rail of Timeline but nothing within the page. App developers won’t be permitted to show ads but they could potentially do other things of a commercial nature (e.g., take you to a link to buy the same shoes that are displayed in an app and were recently bought by one of your friends). Marketers and developers will no doubt invent creative ways to link apps to Pages and vice versa.
Foodspotting: a test drive
I installed the Foodspotting app into my Facebook Timeline to test drive the process. Unlike in the past, Facebook wisely allows the user to have total control over who sees your activity. You also get relatively fine control over the data the app can access. The image below is a kind of composite of several of the screens when adding an app to Timeline.
I didn’t have the Foodspotting app installed on my iPhone. When I clicked the Foodspotting app icon in the settings area of the Facebook smartphone app (see left screenshot below), it launched the iTunes store and prompted me to download Foodspotting. After I had it on my iPhone, when I clicked the Foodspotting icon it launched the app. This is not going to be typical user behavior but it’s very interesting to observe.
Facebook’s Sjogreen told me last night that the primary way that people will discover Timeline apps will be on their friends’ Timelines. I also gathered that the presentation of apps would vary and be somewhat personalized. If you and I are both looking at the same friend’s Timeline, in other words, Facebook might emphasize some apps for me and different ones for you based on a variety of signals.
App ranking and “SEO” on Timeline
It’s challenging at this point to imagine how this will look precisely but the analogy that came to mind was a personalized SERP. Sjogreen didn’t entirely disagree with that characterization or that there will be an “SEO” dimension to the presentation of apps on Timeline.
I don’t want to overreach and make grandiose predictions about Timeline apps’ impact on the market. I did that with Facebook’s introduction of daily deals, which proved to be completely wrong. Similarly Timeline apps might not turn out to be a major new tool for app discovery. But my guess is that it will have a significant impact and become an important new promotional tool for developers and publishers.
Many nuances and “best practices” will undoubtedly and quickly emerge in the coming weeks after Timeline goes live for everyone.