As Facebook Redefines the Social Web, Platform Manager Dave Morin Talks About the Coolest Facebook Apps From Boston and Seattle
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bring their friends with them when they use them. If you’re out on the Web and your friends don’t know that you’re taking certain actions, it’s hard to have a conversation around what you’re doing. With Facebook Connect, we are trying to enable that for any site on the Web.
X: Facebook launched a native iPhone app in July that includes chats, photos, and status updates. What else are you guys doing to help users tap into their Facebook network from their mobile devices?
DM: We spend a lot of time thinking about mobile. We have a great mobile version of the website, and we also have the Facebook for the iPhone application, which we’re really excited about. But we also spend time thinking about how our APIs interact with the mobile device and how we can make it easier for mobile developers to access the social graph and do interesting things with the Facebook Platform. One of the innovative ways we are doing that is this fall we’re releasing Facebook Connect for the iPhone. It’s the same basic concept as Facebook Connect, but it will work on the iPhone. So we’re creating a software development kit for iPhone app developers that leverages our APIs.
X: How would a mobile application tap into Facebook Connect? Can you give me an example?
DM: One of the more popular things to do with Facebook is to play asynchronous games like Scrabble, where I take a turn, then you take a turn. Let’s say there was a game like that on the iPhone. Normally you would just play against yourself or against a leaderboard. But with Facebook Connect you will be able to open the app, log into your Facebook account, connect to the Facebook Platform, and choose any of your friends to play with. It leverages the same APIs as in Facebook Connect, with a few extra pieces for the Cocoa programming language that Apple uses for the iPhone.
X: Are you working on similar systems that might run on phones with other operating systems, like Java, Symbian, or Android?
DM: It’s something we’re evaluating as time goes on. Our platform today is actually fairly easy to leverage on any mobile device. It’s just easier on some and not as easy on others. As time goes on we’ll continue to develop that.
X: As you know, Xconomy focuses on the technology scene in Boston and Seattle, and soon in San Diego. What are some of your favorite applications from developers in those cities?
DM: Cities I’ve Visited is one, from TripAdvisor, a Boston company. We really like their application—it shows you a map of everyplace you’ve been, and how you’re doing in travel quizzes and the like. Stylefeeder is great, and Kayak. Another good Boston one is Utterz.
In Seattle, there is this great little company called Picnik. They have one of the best online photo editors. We really love these guys; they are doing neat stuff. They basically have created this incredibly robust, beautiful photo editor that enables you to do all kinds of neat things with your photos, like editing and adding effects and captions, and their interface is incredibly beautiful. They’ve integrated that directly with the photo albums on Facebook. We are actually one of the largest photo sharing sites, if not the largest—we host over 6 billion photos. But we are not specialists in doing photo editing or customization, and these guys are able to provide these kinds of functionality to our user base of 100 million users.
Another great Seattle company is called All Widgets. They do amazing work creating applications for large brand platforms. They’ve grown from one person to about 12 people recently. For example, the Visa Business Network on Facebook was created by those guys.
In San Diego, FaceReviews does a variety of different things within the Facebook ecosystem. They create some of their own applications. They write a blog about some of the better Facebook apps. They also do some consulting with large brands about how to get into Facebook. Rodney Rumford, the founder of FaceReviews, is one of the big leaders in the San Diego Facebook ecosystem.
X: A lot of the developers I’ve spoken with who were building Facebook apps have expressed frustration with the Facebook platform being somewhat unpredictable and unreliable, and with a lack of advance communication from the company when you make revisions to the platform and changes to the APIs. What have you been doing to deal with those concerns?
DM: We work really hard to increase the amount of communication we’re doing. We’re committed to building a trustworthy, meaningful ecosystem that all businesses big and small can participate in. We’ve put a lot of great things in place, from simple things like bug trackers to communication systems like our blog. We’re trying really hard to be as transparent as possible and to communicate as much as possible, so that people understand what changes are being made and what things we’re doing to make the platform more stable. We truly want people to build great businesses on the platform, but it’s been a learning process. We’ve been very humbled. It’s grown so much faster than we ever imagined, so it’s one of those things. We’ve been trying really hard to get developers the information they need.
X: As Facebook grows, can you imagine opening new development centers in places like Boston or Seattle?
DM: Right now Facebook is almost entirely in Palo Alto. We have a couple of sales offices, in New York and London. We are still a pretty small company, though we have world-wide ambitions. But as time goes on we’ll definitely think about that. Facebook is rooted here [in Cambridge], after all.