The last time Facebook held its F8 developer conference, the year was 2011 and the company was focused on consumer-facing innovations such as Timeline, and on providing developers with a way to reach those consumers though its Open Graph API.
Three years later, the world has gone mobile and Facebook is trying to reset its relationship with developers and rebuild trust with consumers. Once focused on large makers of Web games such as Zynga, Facebook is now courting a broader range of mobile developers with the promise that it can help them build, grow, and monetize their apps while also respecting app user privacy. It is pitching itself as infrastructure that works across all the major platforms.
"Our goal with Facebook is to build the cross-platform platform," said Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg at F8 on Wednesday.
Zuckerberg repudiated the company's mantra, "move fast and break things." Now, he said, Facebook's operating principal is "move fast with stable infra[structure]."
Zuckerberg announced a two-year stability guarantee for core APIs, API versioning, and an SLA promising a response to major bugs in 48 hours or less. For developers, this is huge -- developers don't want to fix their apps every other week because a backend service provider decided to change something without warning. They want the services they've integrated to work consistently and predictably.
As Facebook engineering director Vladimir Fedorov pointed out in a post-keynote interview, "move fast and break things" might have worked for websites, where fixes could be pushed quickly. But it fails with mobile apps, where the lag between code fixes, app submission, app approval, and the installation of the update could be a matter of months.
More surprising still, Zuckerberg announced that Facebook Login, the ubiquitous blue button that allows third-party apps and websites to use Facebook login credentials, will support anonymous login. Though Facebook Login has been a boon to many apps, relieving developers of the burden of implementing a secure login system and of convincing users that they need yet another user ID and password, it can deter app usage.
"We know that some people are scared of pressing this blue button," said Zuckerberg. "It's some of the most common feedback we receive."
This is a remarkable turnabout for Facebook, which still requires that users identify themselves using their real names. And it puts pressure on Google, which has been trying to promote adoption of its alternative authentication mechanism, Google+ Sign-In, and has also insisted on real names for Google+ accounts.
Facebook has also redesigned the way apps ask for permission to use user data, giving users control over specific permissions. This will go a long way toward making people feel more comfortable using apps with Facebook services. And Facebook introduced App Links, an open source cross-platform library that lets developers create deep links to other apps. This has the potential to change the way people engage with apps and mobile content.
To help developers grow their businesses, Facebook debuted a system called Message Dialog for iOS and Android to allow people to share app content through Facebook Messenger. It also launched a Mobile Like Button, a program called FbStart to provide promotional services from partners, and Send to Mobile, a way to send an app to one's phone from a website with a Facebook Login.
Finally, Facebook debuted the Audience Network, a way for advertisers to extend their Facebook ad campaigns to mobile apps.
At the conclusion of the keynote, Zuckerberg turned comtemplative. His 30th birthday is approaching. Gone was the zeal to encourage people to share everything all the time. In its place was a more accommodating attitude.
"We want to make sure that we put people first in all of the different products and experiences we ship," he said.
What do Uber, Bank of America, and Walgreens have to do with your mobile app strategy? Find out in the new Maximizing Mobility issue of InformationWeek Tech Digest.