Dave Mountain, one of our Design Engineers here at Great Fridays, recalls his time at the Facebook Mobile Developer Conference which he attended in London just a few weeks ago.
About nine years ago, a little website was created by a young man holed up in his Harvard university dorm. Its purpose? So people at his university could easily share and connect with each other. Its name? *The* Facebook. Nine years later, that underlying concept still rings true, albeit on a much, much larger scale. They’ve also since removed “the” from their website’s name.
Myself, Gary Butcher and Sebastian Wachholz were tasked with attending this year’s Facebook Developer Conference in London, a conference where us developers could learn about their new technologies and how to integrate it into our apps.
This year’s conference was held at the Old Truman Brewery which, believe it or not, used to be London’s biggest brewery and also had the added issue of being the most confusing buildings to get into. One would think upon approaching a lovely glass facade with “Events” written on it that you had successfully managed to find the entrance, but to our dismay this wasn’t the case and we had to queue up on a narrow street, eventually being directed into the building through an inconspicuous side-door. (Guarded by someone that looked like Cuba Gooding Jr.)
Upon entering the building we were registered, given swanky name tags and then provided with delicious breakfast pastries. And before we knew it, it was time to sit down and get our geek on.
We were introduced to the conference by a jolly young man called Simon Cross, European Developer Relations. Not long after, we were called to our first session of the day, led by James Pearce, Head of Developer Advocacy.
The Mobile Journey
James gave a very inspirational talk, explaining how “we are all makers” and that as mobile developers we can affect so many people’s lives as nowadays everyone is essentially bonded with their mobile devices. To further support that statement, he unleashed an astonishing statistic:
“More than 20% of time spent on phones is spent on Facebook”.
We were then shown a graph that displayed how usage of other social networking applications compared to Facebook, and the results of this were equally as astonishing. The nearest to Facebook’s 20% was Pandora (a music discovery service that operates in the U.S., Australia and New Zealand) which had around 8%. Instagram, YouTube, Gmail and the default email application were all around 2-3%.
I for one was slightly taken aback by this, as although I expected Facebook usage to be much higher than other social apps, I didn’t expect the gap to be as high as it was. But thinking about it, whenever I’ve been, for example, queuing, at least 99% of the people in said queue using a phone would be updating their statuses with “Eurgh, in a queue” or “LOL, going out to get drunk tonight xxxx <3″. I can also admit to having a quick pull-to-refresh now and then.
After recovering from that, James went in for the kill again with another whopper of a bombshell.
“The next billion have never used a computer.”
Obviously the majority of the billion people he was talking about were people living in developing countries with limited or non-existent access to the Internet, or access to computers and mobile devices for that matter. It was also mentioned that the underlying concept of “windows of icons/tasks” hadn’t really changed for mobile design and that it’s important for an icon to express what task, the application it represents, will do. Coupled with the fact that technology in general is predicted to become “social by design” mandatorily, this should ensure that those next billion people can be connected more easily despite their limited exposure to the technology beforehand.
James then revealed the actual figures for Facebook usage per month (literally accurate to a few days before the event):
“Facebook has 1.1 billion active users per month, with 751 million on mobile.”
I have just Googled the world’s population. It’s 7.082 billion. Almost 1 in every 6 people in the world have Facebook. More amazingly, 1 in every 9 people in the world access Facebook on a mobile device. I struggle to actually comprehend that in my mind.
He went on to explain that “cross-platform is non-negotiable”. Basically, without covering all platforms, Facebook would have nowhere near the 751 million mobile users they current have and that if developers like us want to target as many people as possible, we need to do the same.
I think at this point most of the people in the room had their eyes opened somewhat. The next statement Mr. Pearce came out with certainly added to that, but in a slightly different way.
“There’s a dark side to mobile. Building an app, you are a speck of dust amongst many other apps. A pale blue dot.”
Any rustling, typing, or murmuring to one another stopped in it’s tracks and an eerie sense of “ah…” overwhelmed the room. I might have let out a little snigger. But the fact is that it’s entirely true. There are 700,000 apps in both the App Store and on Google Play respectively. The chances of your app making a large impact purely on its own is probably quite slim, and that, he explained, is where Facebook can help you.
App developers can harness Facebook technology to allow users to login and share content with their friends, for example: an achievement in a game, or maybe a song you like. These all increase the awareness of your app. In fact, 81% of the top 100 apps in the App Store and 70% on Google Play have Facebook integration. Facebook processes 263 million referrals to the App Store every single month through ads and links to your application.
James finished with a quote, based on Steve Jobs’ famous quote “the computer is a bicycle for the mind”:
“Facebook is a bicycle for mobile developers.”
Open Graph and Facebook Login
Facebook’s party piece that makes them incredibly developer friendly is called Open Graph, accessible via the new Facebook 3.5 SDKs for developers. In the words of Rose Yao, Product Manager, Open Graph “gives people the power to tell their stories through any application”.
Using Open Graph, app developers can allow users to share “stories” within their application with their friends. Facebook have a little equation for what makes a story:
a subject + verb + noun = story
Translated into an example story:
Dave fought with a chicken on FarmVille!
Users can also tag friends and places in their stories. We were shown an example from the Nike+ application where users can post their latest fitness activities. Facebook logs these and builds up graphs of your performance over the months.
Using the SDK, developers have many options for allowing their users to share content, all with varying degrees of complexity. A developer may decide to add in basic sharing options that don’t utilise Open Graph, or they may decide to fully support it and reap the benefits. Some of these benefits are:
- offering users the ability to login using their Facebook credentials (a product called Facebook Login),
- deep linking from stories to specific sections of your app (for example if a user shared a recipe, you can link directly to that recipe in your app),
- tagging friends and places,
- app attribution (allowing users to go directly to your app, and if the app is not installed then straight to the App Store)
How about some more statistics?
You may have noticed in the last few months or so that 99% of the world appears to be playing a certain game called Candy Crush Saga. You’ve probably received several requests to play it, and you’ve more than likely ignored/deleted them all. Or maybe you’re a massive fan. Anyhow, the sharing options within Facebook are totally responsible for its surge in popularity.
In October 2012, the game had 6 million users and was only accessible via the desktop site. The developers of the game (King.com) then created an iOS and Android version and offered the user the option to sign in with Facebook. This allowed users to carry over their existing desktop game to their mobile device and to continue playing from where they left off. Building from scratch would have meant the user count for these devices would have started from zero, rather than their current user count of 6 million.
Being connected to Facebook, users began to share stories from the application which started to appear in their friends’ feeds. Users would be able to send their friends requests to play the game, their friends would start playing, and so on…
Six months later, the number of users playing the game has increased 4 and a half times. The app is the #1 grossing app in 22 countries around the world. This is all through implementing Facebook’s technologies.
Game developer Wooga’s statistics show that 70% of their users are currently logged in with Facebook, and that users are 9x more likely to spend money within the application if they are logged in with Facebook. This proves that using this technology can affect a developer’s revenue positively.
Parse + Facebook
You may have recently heard about Facebook’s acquisition of Parse. Parse offer an easier way of implementing push notifications for your apps without the need to set up a web server yourself, and also allow you to run custom app code in the cloud, relieving the client app of some tasks and letting Parse’s powerful infrastructure handle it. Furthermore, their SDKs are available on all the major platforms so cross-platform is no problem.
Mr. Ramos also brilliantly handled an onslaught by a developer who was scared about their pricing strategy. The conversation was basically this (hugely paraphrased):
- Developer: “We get charged per API request right?”
- Hector: “Yes that is correct.”
- Developer: “We’ll need to make a lot of API requests. Is there a way this can be kept down?
- *Room-wide sniggering*
- Hector: *A nice way of saying “we need to pay for our servers somehow”*
- (Go to bullet point number 3 and repeat 3 times)
And as this was the last session of the day for us, that little bit of humour topped of the day nicely.
Whilst Open Graph was probably the main talking point of the conference, there were also a number of alternative talks on other subjects of interest.
I sat in on a session with Alan Cannistraro, one of Facebook’s iOS engineers, who explained how Facebook build their own iOS app. The app has seen quite a few changes in the techniques used to build it throughout its history, going from mostly web content displayed within a native app wrapper, through to a fully native experience that could harness the power of multi-core devices.
There was also a talk on how they improved the performance of the mobile website, and how to promote your applications on Facebook.
And of course with Facebook being a friendly bunch, they fed and watered us (up until 6pm when the water morphed into beer and wine) throughout the entire day free of charge. The steak pie at lunch was literally one of the best things I’ve ever eaten.
Kudos to you Facebook for hosting the event. We all came away with valuable knowledge into your tools and how to improve our mobile applications with your easy-to-use and powerful technologies.
Now I’m off to try and find where I can get hold of another one of those pies…