It has more than 3.5 million users, is one of the top 20 most visited websites and has even been cited by MPs and trade unionists as a sink on workers’ time. Facebook has utterly captured the imagination of the UK.
The result is a tech frenzy, especially in London, where developers have feverishly started learning Facebook’s API and client companies have been screaming for applications “now”, leading to varying results.
Developers like Ankur Shah of Techlightenment.com – which has developed the Socialistics and SuperNewsFeed applications – and Anthony Eskinazi who created the RestaurantBookings app – have flocked to the newly created London facebook Developers Garage.
The first Garage in August had over 200 people turn up. This week, the second Garage was addressed by Chamath Palihapitiya, Facebook’s vice president of product marketing and operations, who was over while Facebook sets up its new office in London’s Soho area.
Organiser Toby Beresford – a freelance developer who has developed affiliate tracking and retailer applications so far – said he was originally contacted by Facebook to set up the event in London, mirroring similar events globally.
He told me: “There’s lots of froth about Facebook, but there is also some real stuff underneath it all. There are two streams to all the interest. There is the media interest in social networking and the privacy issues. And then there’s the interest the platform itself.”
But does he feel Facebook is here to stay, especially in development terms?
“I feel it’s got long term ‘legs’.” he says. “The application platform is very interesting and solves lots of issues like single sign-on and consistent user interface. That reduces loads of friction when you are thinking about launching a new application. Technically it gives me access to things I need, and I don’t have to deal with annoying things like user tables – now that’s just a Facebook ID. That cuts big chunks out of normal development time.”
He also doesn’t believe that the recent restrictions on allowing members to invite friends to use new applications will quell the fire of interest around new applications: “They can’t stop you emailing your contacts outside of Facebook, and anyway its moving to the point where you need to develop your application so that it has a lot of engagement from the start to encourage that adoption.”
The implication of Facebook’s enormous take-up in the UK could mean fewer pure-play Web startups.
Beresford says: “Now you can get away with a pure Facebook play. If your target market is consumer web, then you would have to be crazy to develop for anything else.”
The next meetup is scheduled for mid-October, but check out the group for details.