Facebook unloads new developer tools at F8 for monetizing apps

Facebook's awaited mobile ad idea, the Audience Network, is real and ready to do the money number-crunching for developers.
Written by Rachel King, Contributor

SAN FRANCISCO---Build, grow, and monetize are the three keys to unlocking the potential of the Facebook platform, as professed by the social media giant's CEO, Mark Zuckerberg.

After a three-year hiatus, the world's largest social network opened its arms once again to developers at the one-day F8 summit at The Concourse in San Francisco's tech-inundated SOMA district.

Zuckerberg held court on Wednesday morning with an agenda steered by the social network's favorite topic (and strongest revenue stream) as of late: mobile.

Following a stellar first quarter earnings report last week, rumors also circulated that Facebook would be using F8 as an opportunity to unveil its own mobile ad network, poised to compete with the likes of Google and Twitter-owned MoPub. Chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg danced around exactly confirming that news during the shareholders conference call last Wednesday.

Immediately getting right down to business without any flashy introduction or celebrity appearance, Zuckerberg introduced a number of changes designed to strengthen the app development platform while "putting people first." 

One example of putting people first? Anonymous log in, which Zuckerberg suggested will get users to trust Facebook and the apps onboard.

Facebook processed more than $3 billion for its app business alone in the last year while handling an average of 470 total API calls per day.

For developers, Zuckerberg acknowledged that moving quickly is so vital that Facebook was willing to survive a few bugs to get products out the door. 

That's not the mindset anymore as Facebook is introducing a two-year stability guarantee behind core APIs for login and sharing, meaning even if the APIs change in the future, Facebook will continue to support existing APIs for at least two years.

That's followed by versioning for all APIs. Developers can decide which version of the API they build against as well as a 48-hour commitment to fixing major bugs.

Throughout these introductions, Zuckerberg repeatedly stressed that the Facebook platform follows a more horizontal model around the trio of aformentioned pillars: build, grow, and monetize.

Apple, Google, Microsoft and the mobile web are all styled in vertical platforms, Zuckerberg argued, but he reasoned that no one has an incentive to bridge the gaps between these platforms.

"As a person using a phone, this is terrible," Zuckerberg lamented, continuing that it's frustrating to have to build for each platform.

Facebook's game plan for a horizontal, more inclusive model isn't limited to the core social media platform but also two of its largest subsidiaries: Parse and Instagram.

Parse founder and chief Ilya Sukhar cited that the platform has attracted more than 140,000 new developers this year already.
To attract and grow the user base even more, Parse is revising its pricing scheme to offer free analytics forever as well as expanded limits for push notifications and calls.
"You don't have to pay us until your app gets huge," Sukhar said.

Piggy-backing Zuckerberg's comments about siloed platforms, Sukhar highlighted "the problem" of the traditional URL, asserting there is "no unified way to navigate toward links" under current mobile architectures.

Zuckerberg said, "This is really the first time we're going to help you monetize on mobile."

Sukhar pointed toward the lack of back-end connections between media apps in particular, such as Goodreads and Soundcloud, hinting that the possibilities if deeper links were easier to facilitate.

In response, Parse is adding AppLinks, an open standard of open source SDKs that "solves all of these problems."

Developers can get tags to drop into content for iOS, Android or mobile web, including an API that will translate mobile web URLs as well as one-line code for redirecting end users more seamlessly. Sukhar noted that Dropbox's Mailbox app is already using the latter feature so that users don't have to login multiple times to services linked from emails.

To grow apps, Facebook is rolling out a mobile Like button along with FB Start, a program that will provide developers with up to $5,000 worth of developer tools for bootstrapping apps and up to $30,000 to accelerate existing apps.

Finally, monetization is what this is all about in the end, which Facebook itself acknowledged.

"Money is the lifeblood of your business," remarked Deborah Liu from Facebook's platform products team, positing monetization is what helps hire that next engineer to just keeping the lights on at the office.
Liu revealed that more than 100 developers make over $1 million on the Facebook platform each year. To match, Facebook now serves more than a million businesses advertising on the social network.

Reviewing how Facebook's ad business has evolved since the last F8, Liu reflected that traditional advertising still works on mobile, but Facebook had to reinvent how it looked with ads in it.

To link demand with targeting, Liu unveiled the expected mobile ad platform: Facebook Audience Network.

Liu assured that developers don't have to do any billing or measuring, explaining the Audience Network will do that for them.

Zuckerberg concluded to the keynote audience, "This is really the first time we're going to help you monetize on mobile."

The Audience Network is launching today. Zuckerberg added that F8 will become an annual event, moving across San Francisco to the Fort Mason Center in 2015.

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