Facebook’s Big Challenge: Building A Stable Platform For Developers While Maintaining User Experience

Today at The TC CrunchUp at the Fox Theater in Redwood City, a group of founders and entrepreneurs took the stage to talk about the future of Facebook’s platform, where it’s been and where it’s going as a result. Although the company’s stock has been limping of late, Facebook continues to be impossible to ignore — by the end of June, for example, the platform was seeing 955 million monthly active users, with 81 percent of those coming from outside the U.S., and more than 230 million people playing games on Facebook.com every month.

Although it may seem like Facebook has plenty on their plate in terms of stock downturns, ad monetization strategies and more, Facebook Director of Product Management Doug Purdy said that a big challenge facing Facebook today is building a solid and stable platform for third-party developers via its APIs.

Purdy had earlier made it clear that the company has launched over 7,000 timeline apps, which has grown since 3,000 in March — clearly developers are keen to get it on the social bump, the alley-oop coming from the Social Deathstar. Facebook has become an important channel to drive users to new apps they discover in their news feed. In the past 30 days, for example, Facebook has driven people to the App Store and Google Play nearly 150 million times.

The Head of Facebook Product Management said that Facebook recognizes they can’t build all the social experiments, but they’re “all about extending that virality” to different verticals.” There are many businesses we’re not getting into, and we want third-parties to do that for us.

The difficulty, Purdy said, is in balancing priorities, specifically between developers and users (with some advertisers in there as well), because at the end of the day, if they don’t have either, they don’t have a business.

Founder and CEO of BranchOut, Rick Marini, Airbnb Product Lead Joe Zadeh, and FreshPlanet co-founder (publisher of SongPop) Mathieu Nouzareth also joined in on the conversation, which was especially relevant as each company they represent has seen big benefit from building on the Facebook platform. Airbnb recently announced that 10 million nights have been booked, while Facebook-connected guests in particular make 85 percent more bookings on average.

Songpop, meanwhile, has grown from zero to 12 million-plus monthly active users in the last three months, while 65 percent of its mobile users log in with Facebook, and Facebook users are spending 35 percent more time and money than those who don’t login with Facebook.

Marini himself said that BranchOut made a commitment to analytics in December, using a mixture of Mixpanel and Optimizely to make the experience better, trying to harness some of the power of its 400K-to-12M user growth. User acquisition shot way ahead of retention, and BranchOut has since turned its focus to harnessing that. Facebook, he said, helped give the company access to a new demographic, specifically to international users in Indian and Brazil — reach that they wouldn’t have been able to find otherwise.

In the meantime, Nouzareth said that the Open Graph had been instrumental in helping SongPop grow, with users sharing five or 6 times in a minute, although it was a constant worry campaign over whether or not Facebook’s algorithm would be putting those posts from the app into users’ news feeds.

At that point, Josh (who moderated the panel) coaxed Purdy into saying that, in fact, Facebook was not referring to its algorithm as EdgeRank (although the rest of the industry does), and nodded his head as Nouzareth said that they can’t worry about controlling that, they really have to just focus on making a good game and great user experience.

That’s where Purdy again chimed in to encourage developers to just focus on building a great gaming or app experience, and to use Facebook as the amplification tool to give them that extra boost. Purdy said that the better the apps are that end up in the news feed, and the more relevant the notifications and posts, it helps drive success for Facebook itself, and make their ads far more relevant — good for the bottom line.

“Build an awesome app, plug in Facebook and success will happen,” Purdy quipped.

Josh also asked about Facebook’s Face.com acquisition, and whether we might be able to expect a Facial recognition API anytime soon. “We have no plans for that at present,” Purdy said, although he did hint that if they saw enough interest from developers, it’s something that they would consider.