At the turn of the millennium, Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft, chanted "developers" over and over to emphasize what mattered to world's largest software company.
Fifteen years later, Facebook, the largest social network, sees things through the lens of audience size and ad revenue rather than software licensing, but it, too, appreciates the value of developers. Yet if CEO Mark Zuckerberg were to attempt to recreate Ballmer's manic developer dance, he might emphasize the word "partners" instead.
Developers in the desktop era focused on a relationship with a platform provider like Microsoft. Today, with so many composable cloud-based services – analytics, notifications, cloud data storage, and ad networks, to name a few – developers see platforms as a nexus for multiple vendor relationships.
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Resurrecting its F8 developer conference in 2014 after a three-year hiatus, Facebook refocused from Web apps to native mobile apps, launching a program called FbStart to help mobile startups grow through mentorship, community, and services. In March 2015, it promised platform stability and pitched itself as a "cross-platform platform" – a set of infrastructure services that provide a common foundation for mobile apps, regardless of the operating system.
Six months out from F8 2016, which will take place April 12-13 at Fort Mason Center in San Francisco, Calif., Facebook announced seven new partners have joined FbStart: Animoto, Coursera, Dropbox, Reverie, Twilio, Twin Prime, and Verbalizeit. Facebook's partners provide the backend services that, in conjunction with Facebook data and tools, can help a mobile app find users and generate revenue.
These companies join a group that now numbers more than 30. Mobile developers participating in FbStart can access free service trials and discounts provided by these member companies. The offerings have a combined total value of $250 million.
Speaking at FbStart San Francisco on Wednesday, Deb Liu, VP of platform at Facebook, said 7,200 startups had joined the program since last year, 70% of which are outside the U.S.
"The way we think about platform is it's about helping developers build, grow, and monetize their apps," said Liu. "And we do that by listening to their feedback and connecting them with the tools that they need to be successful."
One such tool, Facebook Analytics, introduced in March, has been integrated into more than 200,000 apps, according to Liu. As an example of the utility of Facebook Analytics, Liu described how photo app MomentCam used the service to determine which language localization for the app would help most with user retention.
Facebook also introduced a new share sheet for iOS apps, designed to make sharing content a consistent experience across apps. Though the changes may seem like minor design tweaks, they can have a major impact on the way people use apps and, ultimately, on the revenue potential of apps. Liu described the lengthy usability testing done by Facebook to optimize its Facebook Login interface last year.
"We don't just take a look at a product and say, 'We're done,'" said Liu. "We're constantly trying to improve that product by getting feedback."