Got an app? Facebook wants you

Social media giant is looking to attract developers to build apps with its new software which will help position it at the centre of mobile technology

Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive officer of Facebook, is set to issue a rallying cry for app developers at this week’s F8 conference in San Francisco to use the social network’s app building platform.Photograph: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive officer of Facebook, is set to issue a rallying cry for app developers at this week’s F8 conference in San Francisco to use the social network’s app building platform.Photograph: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

Mon, Apr 28, 2014, 07:41

Facebook is set to vie with Google and Apple for mobile-app makers, as it gets ready to encourage developers to use its Parse platform, thus boosting its prominence in the mobile world.

The social network recently reached out to Helsinki-based Huuuge Inc., the maker of the game, to convince the team to build mobile applications with its tools. The startup didn’t bite, said Anton Gauffin, Huuuge’s founder and executive chairman.

“I don’t think developers really see Facebook as a tool or provider of help for developers,” said Mr Gauffin, who added that his team makes games using Apple Inc.’s software.

Facebook is pushing to change that perception this week at the F8 developer conference in San Francisco, the company’s first major event for app makers since 2011.

While Facebook once was a key site where software makers like Zynga introduced their games, many programmers have since turned their attention to building apps for smartphones instead. At F8, chief executive officer Mark Zuckerberg is set to rally developers with a new message:

Facebook has software that makes it easier to build apps for mobile phones, as well as tools that help programmers sell those wares to the social network’s 1.28 billion users. The more developers use the technologies, the more prominence the social network gains in a mobile world dominated by Apple and Google.

At the centre of Facebook’s developer strategy is Parse, which the company acquired a year ago. Parse offers technology to more quickly build an app and keep consumers engaged. Over the past 12 months, the number of apps built using Parse’s tools more than tripled to 260,000, the company said. Parse will be featured during Mr Zuckerberg’s F8 keynote on April 30th, and the chief executive will be joined on stage by Parse chief Ilya Sukhar.

Problem solvers

“Now we’re absolutely focused on solving people’s problems -- build, grow, monetise,” said Mr Sukhar, who is also head of developer products at Facebook. All of this contrasts with Facebook’s last F8 conference. At that event, the Menlo Park, California-based company promised developers they could popularise their apps on the social network by sending messages and prompts through users’ friends. Yet that created more spam on Facebook and annoyed consumers, leading the company to limit developers’ freedom on the site.

“We’ve definitely moved away from the world of ‘send a cow to 100 of your closest friends in one click,’” said Mr Sukhar, referring to Zynga’s method of distributing its FarmVille game on Facebook years ago.

Mobile ambitions

Getting more developers to use its tools is key to Facebook’s mobile ambitions. Mobile ads now generate 59 per cent of the company’s advertising revenue, up from almost nothing at the time of its 2012 initial public offering. The mobile business has powered the company’s stock, which has more than doubled in the last year. While shares dropped late last week, Facebook is up 5.6 per cent for the year, compared with a 2.4 per cent decline in the Nasdaq Composite Index. To boost mobile revenue, Facebook has leaned on a type of ad it offers developers to drive downloads of their apps, called app-install ads. Those promotions are one of Facebook’s best- performing products, responsible for more than 350 million app downloads since they became available in January 2013, chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg said in an earnings call with investors last week.