Facebook developers need to realise that local is global, too

23 Jul 2010

There are now more than 25 billion pieces of information shared every month on Facebook, the social-networking site that this week hit its 500 millionth-user milestone. But if Irish software developers want a piece of the action they better start thinking globally.

Facebook’s director of user operations in Europe Sonia Flynn told yesterday’s DotConf at the National College of Ireland that there are now more than 550,000 apps on Facebook and that 70pc of Facebook users use these apps, which include games like FarmVille and travel apps from TripAdvisor.

In addition to this, more than 150 million people engage with external sites via Facebook every month, sending a resounding warning shot to website owners who have yet to put a ‘Like’ button on their sites.

“More than 1 million developers and entrepreneurs from 180 countries are engaging with Facebook,” Flynn told the DotConf. She cited local examples like Edenbee’s app that tells Facebook users all about climate change to increase awareness.

Flynn told the story of Facebook’s developer platform from Canvas and API’s to the launch of Open Graph in April and emphasised the importance of social plugins from the point of social engagement to common business sense in the 21st century.

“Just one line code on your website can install the ‘Like’ button that can bring information from across your site to Facebook. It’s also nine times more effective to include photos with a ‘Like’ button.”

She said the growth of social plug-ins, such as being able to see on media sites such as the BBC website which of your friends are reading what stories, is proving to be a powerful social media experience.

“Facebook provides these social media experiences but we don’t share your data with anyone else.”

Metatagging and the use of Open Graph to pull in semantic information is becoming a vital driving force for future commerce models that will emerge on Facebook. And with 500 million potential customers, what business can argue?

“We will have a new Social Bar app on the way that allows users to see what’s happening and that includes a chat function.”

She also scotched rumours that Facebook intends to charge users for functionality. “We will not be charging users, pay as you go is not happening,” she declared emphatically.

For developers and web businesses, Flynn stressed that the potential to build a successful app that has international appeal really needs to be tapped into here in Ireland.

Following her presentation at the DotCof, Flynn, who joined Facebook from Google, sat down with Siliconrepublic and emphasised how Irish apps developers need to be creating products that will fly well beyond Ireland.

“I think Irish entrepreneurial talent is very evident and the one thing I love about Irish entrepreneurs and developers is their focus on building something that is meaningful. My bugbear is there needs to be more apps coming from Ireland that have global appeal. We’ve built the technology for them to do it and I believe it’s a missed opportunity if they don’t.”

Passion and global appeal

She cited Robin Blandford’s Decisions for Heroes as a prime example of a niche idea with global appeal, driven by a passion and an understanding of the global marketplace they are targeting.

“Local doesn’t have to be in Dublin,” she stressed. “Facebook sees itself as a facilitator for ideas and our last Developer’s Garage in London had a good mix of business people and academics, as well as developers.

“Our Open Graph is effectively a launch point to the entire web and I believe it has changed how people use Facebook. Brands take time to build up and Facebook is an excellent platform to push information to the user. But it takes effort.”

Facebook’s European headquarters in Dublin now employs more than 100 people and is continuing to grow. “We’re very happy in that we’ve identified high calibre people from a variety of backgrounds, not just engineering, who identify with the user and are genuinely interested in online,” said Flynn, whose academic background includes a Masters in German literature.

“The key to the future of Facebook is providing a good social experience on the web that allows people to identify friends and trends on other websites, too.”

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years