Facebook has announced its own version of an app store, and it has the potential to steamroll all others.
Yesterday, Facebook made its move into app stores with a service that it has dubbed App Center. The sweetener that Facebook is tempting developers with is the opportunity to increase their app audience; the unsurprising price of entry is that the app must use the Facebook log-in. Android and iOS apps, Facebook canvas apps, and even websites that use Facebook log-ins are eligible for entry into the App Center.
The scale of the traffic that Facebook could potentially drive with its 900 million users is staggering. From a pure numbers point of view, I'd expect any promotion that Facebook does in the App Center to dwarf the sought-after front-page promotions on Apple's App Store or Google Play.
In using this carrot, Facebook is attempting to lever its Facebook log-in tendrils into more and more applications — and frankly, that should be a matter of concern.
There's not an elephant left in this room anymore, so much as a giant pile of existing context known as Facebook privacy concerns. We've read it before, and, by and large, the general populace does not care about such things — not so long as a virtual farm or city needs attending to.
The other giant pile of concern I have about this is the quality of Facebook's API. It's unreliable, badly documented (if at all), and Facebook will change and deprecate portions of it, seemingly on a whim.
My experience in having to cobble together parts of Facebook's REST and Graph APIs in order to maintain an application's existing functionality is a special form of hell that I do not wish upon another developer. There are few companies that could deprecate an API without having a fully featured replacement ready to go, but this is acceptable behaviour online. And I'm not the first to experience these feelings, either.
Another aspect of Facebook application development that leaves a sour taste is the desirability of five-star reviews and the gaming that applications use to receive them. There are a number of different approaches: hold back features until a five-star rating is given; give the user a bonus; keep spamming until it works; or just do whatever you have to do to get five stars. Regardless of how the rating is gained, it is artificial and no credence should be given to it. How many applications do you use that you would give an honest 100/100 rating to? Now extrapolate that to the core feature of an application store, and you'll see why the rating system is worthless.
Then there is the sheer carelessness of users and the amount of data that they will hand over in order to play a game. Mix in some extended Facebook permissions with the ability to natively grab a user's address book, and the furore we've seen recently with Path will look like amateur profiling hour.
Yet, despite these faults, access to almost a billion users is quite the lure, and Facebook is aiming to be the prime electronic log-in of your life.
The company is already an online behemoth, is the de facto standard for online identity, and is starting to be used for offline identity-verification, as well. The logical next place for Facebook to push its identity and tracking infrastructure is mobile.
As the temptation to see millions of installs occur through App Center proves irresistible, and more developers come into contact with Facebook's API, I do hope that the stability and support for programmers will rise to the occasion.
After my experience with Facebook, I'm cynical that it will. But, as a programmer, I hope you can find small joys in your work, be it the laughable lengths people will go to in worming out a five-star review, or finding an actual use for all the extra profile and analytical data gleaned from new Facebook users of your application. And who knows; maybe Facebook success will be the driving force in a quick cash-out.
If you haven't had contact with Facebook APIs yet, brace yourself. App Center is now the new place to be.