Why adopt a mobile-first development strategy?

“We think mobile first,” stated Macy’s chief financial officer Karen Hoguet, in a recent earnings call with financial analysts.
A quick glance at the US department store chain’s 2015 financial results explains why mobile technologies might be occupying minds and getting top priority there. Sales made by shoppers over mobile devices were a definite bright spot in an otherwise disappointing year for the company. Mobile revenues more than doubled, in fact, thanks to big increases in the number of shoppers using smartphones and tablets not only to browse, but also to buy.
So it’s no surprise that Macy’s hopes to maintain this trend, by continuing to improve the mobile experience it offers. In the year ahead, Hoguet explained, this ‘mobile first’ mindset will see Macy’s add new filters to search capabilities, clean up interfaces and fast-track the purchase process for mobile audiences.
Other consumer-focused organisations are thinking the same way and the phrase ‘mobile first’ has become something of a mantra for many. One of its earliest high-profile mentions came way back in 2010, in a keynote given by Eric Schmidt, the-then Google CEO (and now Alphabet executive chairman), at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.
“We understand that the new rule is ‘mobile first’,” he told attendees. “Mobile first in everything. Mobile first in terms of applications. Mobile first in terms of the way people use things.”
The trouble is that, for in-house development teams, a mobile-first strategy still represents something of a diversion from standard practice. They’re more accustomed to developing ‘full size’ websites for PCs and laptops first, and then shrinking these down to fit the size, navigation and processing-power limitations posed by mobile devices.
The risk here is that what they end up with looks like exactly what it is: a watered-down afterthought, packing a much weaker punch than its designed-for-desktop parent.
A development team that has adopted a mobile-first strategy, by contrast, will start by developing a site for mobile that looks good and works well on small form factors, and then ‘work their way up’ to larger devices, adding extra content and functions as they go.
That approach will make more and more sense as more ‘smart’ devices come online and the desktop PC becomes an increasingly minor character in our day-to-day lives. Take wearables, for example: many CIOs believe that headsets, wrist-mounted devices and the like hold the key to providing workers with relevant, contextual information as and when they need it, whether they’re up a ladder in a warehouse or driving a delivery van.
Developing apps for these types of devices present many of the same challenges associated with smartphones and tablets: minimal screen real estate, limited processing power and the need to integrate with third-party plug-ins and back-end corporate systems. Then there’s a lack of standardised platform for wearables to consider, meaning that developers may be required to adapt their mobile app to run on numerous different devices. For many, it may be better to get that hard work out of the way at the very start of a project.
In a recent survey of over 1,000 mobile developers conducted by InMobi, only 6% of respondents said they had created apps for wearables, but 32% believe they’re likely to do so in future.
The same rules apply to a broader category of meters and gadgets that make up the Internet of Things, from meters for measuring gas flow in a utilities network, to products for ‘smart homes’, such as the Canary home-monitoring device, to virtual reality headsets, such as Samsung’s Gear VR, as worn by attendees at Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s keynote at this year’s MWC.
As the population of ‘alternative’ computing devices grows, developers will begin with a lean, mean mobile app, which functions well despite the constraints of the platform on which it runs, having made all the tough decisions about content and function upfront. Then, having exercised some discipline and restraint, they’ll get all the fun of building on top of it, to create a richer experience for desktop devices.
More importantly, they’ll be building for the devices that consumers more regularly turn to when they want to be informed, entertained or make a purchase. In the US, digital media time (or in other words, Internet usage) on mobile is now significantly higher at 51% than on desktop (42%), according to last year’s Global Internet Trends Report by Mary Meeker of Silicon Valley-based venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers (KPCB).
In other words, developers should go mobile first, because that’s what we consumers increasingly do.
Picture Credit: Farzad Nazifi

What to expect from social companies in 2016

Social networks are in a time of upheaval. Established players are experimenting with new services to maintain their relevance, upstart messaging companies are doing their damnedest to knock incumbents off their thrones, and people have more options than ever before when it comes to connecting with other humans.
Below I’ve tried to think up some of the changes we’re most likely to see in 2016 as companies try to diversify their products, renew competition with their rivals, and make good on some of the things forecasted by changes made this last year. And, this being the holidays and all, I decided to do so in a handy-dandy listicle.
Facebook Messenger learns from Asian services
“For social in 2016 I think we will see a further entrenching of messaging and it will have a more important role in personal communications, especially in mature markets such as the US,” Gartner analyst Brian Blau told me. “As the top messaging platforms extend their functionality it will open the door to third-parties and businesses who will want to leverage messaging [as] one of their next platforms of choice when [it] comes to connecting with their customers.”
We’ve already seen this with a recent update that allows Messengers users to hail a ride through Uber without ever having to leave the communications app. The company was key to stress that this is just a test available to a limited number of users in the United States, and that Uber is just its first transportation partner, but it’s clear that Facebook plans to start expanding Messenger’s capabilities.
Snapchat works on its relevancy to the news cycle
I’ve already said Snapchat’s introduction to breaking news during the San Bernardino shooting on December 2 was refreshingly different from most coverage. The app’s ephemeral nature, combined with the fact that Snapchat’s coverage was based almost entirely on content shared by its users, made it a useful tool that provided a close look at what happened on the ground that day.
It wouldn’t be surprising if Snapchat followed this early success with other news efforts. Perhaps it could help news organizations find content on its network to share with their audiences via Discover. (Anything would have to stay within the Snapchat ecosystem to preserve its impermanence and the privacy of its poster.) Or it could just repeat its approach to covering San Bernardino in other places.
Pinterest stops dancing around its commerce ambitions
Many tech companies don’t worry about making money. They know that if they have reach enough people, and convince enough venture capitalists that they could make money as soon as they decide to flip a magical switch that could eventually rake in millions of dollars, they don’t really need to do anything else. But, eventually, investors start to expect companies to bring in some dough.
Pinterest could do that next year. The company has been flirting with commerce since it introduced “Buyable Pins” in the beginning of the year. It’s since added a dedicated shopping section to its mobile applications, introduced a search tool that makes it easier to discover goods within photos, and, most recently, updated the Buyable Pins so they can tell people when items shown in them drop in price.
All that’s left is for the company to ask for a cut of those revenues. Perhaps it will continue to indirectly profit for a while — advertising revenue ain’t bad — but eventually it wouldn’t be a surprise if it started to make money when people buy stuff they discovered on its platform. In fact, it would be the opposite: I would be more surprised if this didn’t happen than if the flip were switched next year.
Twitter introduces a competitor to Facebook’s Instant Articles
It’s weird that Facebook beat Twitter to content hosting. Sure, Facebook sends more traffic to publishers, but many people use Twitter as a content discovery service. It would’ve made sense for Twitter to introduce something that makes opening a link, especially in the company’s mobile applications, less painful than it is. (In-app browsers never seem to function particularly wonderfully.)
Given that, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Twitter at least attempted to offer a similar tool to publishers. It might not have as much success — Facebook’s efforts have succeeded in large part because it has more users, more control over the links they see, and more advertising options — but it could still give it a try. Otherwise it’ll be ceding one of its core strengths, content discovery, to its rival.
Celebrities and brands keep testing features before the public
It seems like one of the nicest things about being a celebrity, aside from the fame and the money and the prestige, is the ability to test new features before the unwashed masses ever hear of them. (And by “unwashed masses” I mean “we.”) That will probably remain true for two reasons: Giving a feature to celebrities naturally limits its reach, and access could keep celebrities engaged with a site.
Just look at how Facebook rolled out new features. Perhaps the most notable example is the service’s live-streaming tool. It debuted first among celebrities; then made its way to other public figures; and is finally being tested among a small number of Facebook users in the United States. This gave celebrities an interesting feature while also helping Facebook make adjustments to the tool.
There was also the the photo-editing features Twitter gave to celebrities before anyone else. And it’s not just celebrities: features often debut early among brands, too, so their ads can stand out from other content on the services. “With Instagram specifically, there are quite a few features they’ve offered brands that will likely make their way to users too,” said Jackdaw Research’s Jan Dawson. “Account switching, multiple-photo carousels, being able to link externally, and so on are all features users want and which might well show up in 2016.”
Facebook introduces video-streaming apps
I’ve said this already, but it’s worth repeating here: Facebook’s lack of standalone video apps is bizarre. The company has done everything it can to take over users’ phones by taking features from its main services and giving ’em their own apps. Messenger was part of Facebook. So was the ability to synchronize photos across devices, which is now exclusive to Moments. Facebook likes independent apps.
Combine that with how popular video has become on its service and it seems like only a matter of time before we start seeing these apps on our phones, tablets, and set-top boxes. Facebook will soon become a channel similar to YouTube or Netflix or Hulu. If it doesn’t, it’s only because the company decided to prop up its main application by keeping videos inside it instead of letting them branch out.
More concerns over data usage and battery life
Phones keep getting thinner. People also use them more each year. This means that battery life is the weakest aspect of any smartphone — and social networks are some of the worst culprits when it comes to using more power than expected.
This came to a head earlier this year when Circa co-founder Matt Galligan called attention to the insane amount of battery consumed by Facebook’s app. Facebook addressed the problem with an update less than two weeks later, but social networking apps like Facebook’s and Twitter’s continue to be some of the biggest drains on an iPhone’s battery life this side of using it to watch Netflix.
Consumers also have to be wary about social apps using all their mobile data. Facebook and Twitter both automatically play video advertisements in their apps by default, and this can wreak havoc on a customer’s data limits. As these apps continue to focus on videos and other rich media, the amount of battery power and mobile data they consume is likely to keep rising in the immediate future.

Facebook changes enforcement of harmful real-name policy

Facebook has announced two changes to the way it enforces its real-name policy: the first is meant to ensure that fewer people are asked to prove they’re using the same name online that they use in real life; the second to make the verification process easier on the users who will still be required to confirm their identities.
The changes follow months of criticism from people endangered by Facebook’s real-name policy, such as activists or victims of domestic violence, and people whose names are unusual or who identify with a name other than the one they were given at birth. (Specific examples of these problems here, here, and here.)
These complaints led to the creation of the “Nameless Coalition,” which advocated for Facebook to change its real-name policy to accommodate people who might need to use a “fake” name for their own protection or who identify with another name. Dozens of organizations and individuals supported the coalition’s goals.
Facebook’s Chris Cox previously apologized for the real-name policy’s failings and explained that it’s enforced because it’s “part of what made Facebook special in the first place” and it’s the “primary mechanism we have to protect millions of people every day, all around the world, from real harm,” as he wrote at the time.
Now, the company will require people to provide additional context when they report someone for using a fake name. “In the past, people were able to simply report a ‘fake name’ but now they will be required to go through several new steps that provide us more specifics about the report,” Facebook said today.
“This additional context will help our review teams better understand why someone is reporting a name,” product manager Todd Gage and vice president of global operations Justin Osofsky wrote in the announcement, “giving them more information about a specific situation.” And that’s not the only fix being made.
Facebook will also ask people to explain their situations when they’re reported for using a fake name. “People can let us know they have a special circumstance, and then give us more information about their unique situation,” Gage and Osofsky wrote. Facebook will consider this info when responding to the issue.
These changes still put the ultimate decision on a person’s identity in Facebook’s hands. The company has no intention of getting rid of the real-name policy, as it’s core to many Facebook services, and the fact remains that the social network will have the power to kick someone out if it thinks their identity isn’t authentic.
Still, better to make incremental changes that could help some people than to maintain the status quo because it refuses to nix the real-name policy. Facebook is still learning — there will doubtless be people who abuse the reporting tool to harass others, or who are erroneously flagged — and likely will be for some time.

Facebook tests Yelp-like service devoted to local businesses

Facebook is quietly testing a new feature that allows its users to find “local businesses with the best Facebook reviews and ratings” through its website.
The feature allows Facebook users to look up everything from automotive repair shops to wedding planners near their locations. (They can also manually search for businesses in a different area.) Results are shown with review snippets, a star rating, contact information, and the address. It is, in other words, just like Yelp.
Businesses seem to be ordered based on the number of reviews they’ve received. This makes sense for Facebook — why have something with two reviews as the top result when another business has dozens? — but it’s weird to see a business with a four-star rating appear far above a business that’s often given five stars.
Professional Services, as the feature is called, makes sense for Facebook. The company has been trying to become more useful to businesses lately, whether it’s by introducing the Facebook at Work service or allowing them to stay in touch with customers via the Messenger platform, as it diversifies revenue sources.
The surprising thing is that it might actually make sense for Facebook’s users, too. Even though Yelp has remained the de facto standard for finding businesses, Facebook might have the edge in some cases. I searched for gyms in a nearby city, for example, and Professional Services had many more reviews than Yelp.
Facebook also has the benefit of requiring people to use their real names with their profiles. It’s easier to trust a review from a friend, acquaintance, or family member than it is to trust anonymous users. You know whether your aunt has wonderful taste in hairdressers; you don’t know the same about XxBoWlCuTsxX.
But posting under real names might have its drawbacks. GlobalWebIndex, a firm which regularly surveys Facebook users about their habits, told Gigaom that just 10 percent of respondents to a recent survey “posted a negative comment about a product or brand.” Reviews could be skewed by users afraid to be seen as mean.
This is clearly a quiet test of a potential feature. Facebook never announced that it’s testing something like this, and a request for comment on this story wasn’t immediately returned. The company isn’t yet competing head-to-head with Yelp, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Professional Services gets more attention soon.
h/t Search Engine Land

Facebook to make photo-syncing feature exclusive to Moments app

Facebook won’t let the Moments app join its growing pile of abandoned projects. Even after it shut down its Creative Labs division and the experimental apps that emerged from it — including Riff, Slingshot, and Rooms — the company is doing its best to convince its users download the standalone photo-sharing application.
To do that, the company will remove the ability to synchronize photos across multiple devices from the main Facebook app. (You know, the one that has steadily become less important as many of its functions are split into standalone applications like Messenger.) Now the feature will be exclusive to Moments.
A Facebook spokesperson provided Gigaom the following statement via email:

Starting this week, we are beginning to phase out Facebook’s photo syncing feature. This is an opt-in experience that syncs photos taken on your mobile phone to a private section on Facebook, viewable only to you, where you can view or post the photos if you choose. The feature was launched in 2012 when people took photos on their phones, but still posted primarily from computers. People that use the photo syncing feature will have the option to move the photos they’ve previously synced to our new app Moments, where they will be able to view, download, or delete them. If they don’t want to download Moments, you will also be able to download a zip file of your synced photos or delete them from your Facebook profile on your computer.

Some users could welcome this change. Moments is much better at syncing photos than the main Facebook app, and it comes equipped with features like facial recognition and tools that make it easier to get a friends’ photos from an event, so it’s not like Facebook is forcing an incompetent service on its users.
But it’s hard not to view this as yet another of Facebook’s attempts to become the primary interface people use to interact with their digital lives. No longer can someone download the Facebook app and do anything they want with the service — now they must install a bunch of standalone apps to achieve the same result.
The main Facebook app offers access to the news feed; Messenger lets people stay in touch with friends and family; Moments helps people manage photos; Instagram allows them to share photos with the outside world; WhatsApp makes it easy to stay in touch with people who don’t use Facebook; the list goes on.
And we’ve reached the point where even those apps have standalone utilities. Instagram has Layout, Boomerang, and Hyperlapse. Messenger has Selfied, Strobe, and Stickered. It’s surprising that WhatsApp hasn’t been broken into multiple pieces, or spawned a bunch of little apps that augment its service.
Releasing all these standalone apps does make things easier for Facebook users. People don’t have to download Messenger, Instagram, or their add-ons if they don’t want to. Sure, they’ll be limited by what the main Facebook app can do, but they won’t have to jump between multiple apps to accomplish simple tasks.
The gambit also gives Facebook more and more reach on people’s home screens, though, and that could mean more time spent with its products. Instead of being confined to a single app icon, the company could now fill most of a home screen with just its applications. Facebook, in other words, is breaking out of its box.
It’s easier to do that with Moments than with the apps Creative Labs introduced. So even as it cleans house, Facebook appears to be doing its damnedest to make sure people who might benefit at all from Moments’ photo-syncing are going to download it, use it, and devote even more of their home screens to its services.

For tech companies, tis the season for cleaning house & killing apps

Now is the winter of tech companies’ discontent. By that I mean December is fast becoming the time of the year for tech companies to shutter apps and services that haven’t quite made their mark.
Most recently, LinkedIn has decided to fully discontinue its Pulse News reader application, which it first acquired back in 2013, on December 31. The move isn’t very surprising, considering that the company launched a completely overhauled version of Pulse (officially called LinkedIn Pulse) back in September that doesn’t look much at all like the old service.
Need more evidence that December is the month of cleaning? Well, it started with Dropbox’s announcement that it’s going to pull the plug on its Mailbox and Carousel apps. That revelation is supposed to help the company focus on collaboration features, like the business-focused Paper service, and finally give it the evidence it needs to prove that it’s more than just a feature.
Then it continued with Facebook shuttering its Creative Labs, which gave the company’s workers an outlet for their creative energies. (Or at least their desire to work on something tangential to the jolly blue giant — the products were mostly rip-offs.) The company also pulled all the Labs’ output from app stores.
Mozilla joined in the action earlier this afternoon. The company plans to stop developing and selling devices featuring its Firefox OS, which was designed to offer a cheaper, more open mobile platform. It also plans to “disentangle the technical infrastructure” of its Firefox browser and Thunderbird email client.
Soon it will lead to even more abandoned products. Oyster’s planning to “sunset” its all-you-can-read book service in January 2016 after much of its team was hired to work at Google. Outerwall, makers of DVD rental kiosks Redbox, isn’t getting killed — but as of today its stock certainly is after the company confirmed that business is way down. And while AOL’s dial-up (aka “membership”) business is still around, many of the folks employed to run that portion of the company were just “gifted” pink slips. Though it technically happened last month, Rdio finally threw in the towel, too.
At this point it wouldn’t be a surprise if even more products disappear. Blogger? AOL Instant Messenger? Facebook Paper? Yahoo News Digest? Chances are that most of us won’t even be able to think of the apps most likely to be put down: The problem with most of these services is that they’ve already been forgotten by so many people.

Human, machine, or both: The era of Facebook blur is upon us

Someone might think that Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday would be enough pseudo-holidays for the week following Thanksgiving. That person would be wrong. Another not-quite-holiday, Giving Tuesday, must be observed before we can stop marking the arrival of winter with open wallets.
I know about Giving Tuesday because Facebook told me about it. “It’s Giving Tuesday!” the social network said in an image depicting cartoon people holding up a giant, heart-clutching hand modeled after its Like button. “Today is a global day of giving back to our communities and the charitable causes we care about.”
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The banner is innocuous enough. It drew attention to a day I wouldn’t have known about while prompting me to “see how others are giving back.” I might have ignored the whole thing if Facebook’s choice of words — “our communities” and “we care about” — didn’t make me pause to consider their implications.
Facebook has been a little creepier than usual lately. It keeps telling me that it cares about me, or that it thinks I’ll like a photo it plucked from social oblivion with its On This Day feature, which is supposed to compel me to share things I’ve already shared out of some prompted feeling of technological nostalgia.
Some have said these prompts are supposed to make people share more stuff on Facebook. The Wall Street Journal reported in November that this was the case based on Global Web Index statistics showing that users are posting to Facebook less even though they visit the social network several times throughout the day.
Jackdaw Research’s Jan Dawson agrees. “Ironically, Facebook needs real human beings to create content to make it a useful and meaningful service to use, and even though these are machine-based prompts, they still require humans to actually post something for their friends to see,” he said in an emailed response.
But the language used in these prompts has me considering another possibility: Facebook is using these images to humanize its service and seem more relatable, instead of like a cold, algorithm-driven social network that sucks content into its service in much the same way a mosquito draws blood from a person’s flesh.
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That humanization could make it easier to share things with Facebook. People want to feel like they have an audience — being told that Facebook cares about “you and the memories you share here” could offer all the audience they need. Creepy? Yes. Effective? If it wasn’t Facebook would’ve already nixed the feature.
It is kind of funny that Facebook is testing these features now, while it’s also working to dehumanize the workers powering its M utility, which can be used for everything from finding a restaurant to sending parrots to a colleague’s office. The tool can do everything! But it relies on human workers for many functions.
Given that people are handing over their information to M and conversing with it the same way human beings always converse with digital facsimiles — with humor and candor not shared with actual people — it makes sense that Facebook wouldn’t call attention to the fact that it’s far different from Siri or Google Now.
This means Facebook is trying to humanize algorithms while it hides actual humans behind a veneer of artificial intelligence. (If only “algorithmize” were a word.) One convinces people to share more with the public; the other makes them more candid than they might be if they knew they were talking to a person.
How people react to these efforts depends on their disposition. Some people are more comfortable when a service tries to humanize itself; others, like me, are just kind of weirded out that a digital behemoth wants me to think it’s human. Either way it seems like Facebook is trying to blur the lines between machine and person in ways that allow it to get the most out of its billion-plus users.
Facebook didn’t respond to a request for comment. (And here all these images keep telling me that the company cares about me.) I’ll update this post if someone at the company emails me back and offers an on-the-record statement.

Social networks face obstacles in road to e-commerce domination

Social networking companies have made no secret of their desire to convince people to purchase things discovered in ads, photos, and other content shared to their services. But the big social players are finding that more difficult than expected, even with the added sales activity from the holiday shopping season.
Over the last year, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest have spent much time developing ways to make shopping easier by eliminating the need to navigate outside the social network with various “buy” buttons. The idea is that if you build purchasing features directly into the social service, people will be more likely to make a transaction than if they were redirected to an online retail site or brand’s website. The problem is that consumers aren’t changing their shopping habits as much as hoped, according to a report from Recode.
The report focuses on the various “buy” buttons that have appeared on these social networks in the last year. It notes that Facebook’s is still seen as a test; that Twitter’s isn’t encountered very often even by its most fanatical users; and that Pinterest’s have led to fewer than 10 purchases a day from a retail partner.
A Facebook spokesperson reiterated the company’s stance — that it’s testing its commerce tools, and that it’s focused on discovering new products as well as allowing people to purchase them with a “buy” button — in an interview. Twitter didn’t respond to a request for comment. Pinterest emailed a prepared response:

Since launching Buyable Pins 6 months ago we are encouraged by the early results for merchants. Although it’s still early days with the program we are hearing from merchants that many of their customers coming through Buyable Pins are new and we are driving higher mobile conversions. We look forward to continuing to deliver value to our partners through the holiday season and a fun, easy shopping experience for our Pinners.

It’s worth noting that criticism of these “buy” buttons doesn’t come amid a holiday shopping slump. Reports indicate that Thanksgiving and Black Friday shopping habits were “perfectly average,” and that an estimated 34 percent of purchases from the last week were made by shoppers on their smartphones.
So it’s not that people are closing their wallets this year, nor that they were too busy eating potentially-worrisome turkey products to use their phones. They’re spending a fair amount and they’re doing so via their smartphones — they just don’t seem to be using social networking companies’ purchasing tools to do so.
This might not be too problematic for Facebook and Twitter. Both companies have introduced features unrelated to commerce — like a not-so-virtual assistant and summaries of breaking news — over the last few months. But Pinterest’s inability to convert digital window shoppers into buyers could be a problem.
Commerce has been Pinterest’s focus for a while. First came the buyable pins; then came a dedicated shopping section in its mobile apps; and then came a new visual search tool designed to allow people to identify products shown in pins. It’s obvious that the company wants people to buy things found on its service.
That makes Recode’s report more damning. A Pinterest spokesperson offered several examples of businesses finding new customers through its service — the same as they do on Facebook and Twitter — but only one of a brand improving sales by a notable margin. And even that was expressed as a percentage of growth instead of an absolute value, which makes it hard to tell how big a bump that really was.
“The effectiveness of buy buttons hans’t been fully realized at this early stage. Mobile users have many options for making purchases and it will take time for this payment route have an impact on overall mobile e-commerce sales,” Gartner analyst Brian Blau told Gigaom. “I think we will see [these companies] make adjustments and continue to configure these purchase points over the coming year to optimize their role in the mobile customer purchase funnel.”
It’s still early in this game. All of these companies have emphasized that their commerce efforts are being tested, and at least for Facebook and Twitter, it’s clear that the companies aren’t focusing all of their efforts on getting people to buy things through their platforms. Those companies will be fine either way.
Pinterest’s success or failure in this regard will be more interesting. The service is often used as a way for people to learn about new products. (Or, as it seems to be used in my house, as a never-ending source of hit-or-miss recipes.) Now it just has to bridge the gap between discovering a product and purchasing it.

Facebook touts the strength of its developer tools

Facebook is tooting the horns of its various developer tools by sharing how DoubleU Games, a South Korean developer, used them to learn more about Facebook users who play in the virtual casino of its flagship DoubleU Casino.
A case study provided exclusively to Gigaom shows that DoubleU Games used Facebook’s log-in feature to make it easy for people to sign up for DoubleU Casino; used App Install Ads to promote the game; and used the Analytics for Apps tools introduced in March to learn more about how the game is played.
Facebook claims the audience gained from App Ads now represents 80 percent of DoubleU Casino’s desktop revenue. The company behind the virtual casino found that most of its users (80 percent) sign in to the app with Facebook’s login feature. It also used the social network to drive increasing traffic to the game.
Other case studies have been used to drive home the same point: Facebook’s attempts to woo the developer community with new tools are working. Given the rocky past the company had with developers, especially those working on games that went viral before fading into obscurity, that might be a tough line to sell.
Just look to the cautionary tale of Zynga. That company used Facebook’s network to make games like “FarmVille” the darling of the social games market. Then, Facebook made it harder for the company to spam users with messages about their virtual farms, and “FarmVille” became a pale vision of its past glory.
Zynga’s fall makes it hard to believe that other companies can find lasting success on Facebook. That’s a hell of a counterpoint to case studies like this: Facebook could’ve written something similar about Zynga’s past successes, but that would only describe the highs it reached before it came crashing down.
Still, it’s clear that Facebook wants to earn back the trust of developers who can build things for its apps. (This is especially tru for App Instal ads, which Zuckerberg has long touted as a big deal for the company.) Sometimes that manifests as the addition of an app platform to Facebook’s increasingly popular Messenger service; otherwise it crops up as tools like Analytics for Apps, which debuted around the same time.
Then it writes up case studies like this to show that, at least for a while, these tools can make a real difference for developers. That certainly appears to be the case for DoubleU Games: Facebook’s tools helped the company find more users, keep them engaged, and figure out how it could squeeze more money out of ’em.
The trick is for these companies to use all these tools to support a lasting business. Until then we can’t be sure these case studies are capturing more than a snapshot of companies that are cresting the peak of their success. So, sure, look to DoubleU Games to see what Facebook can do. Just remember Zynga, too.

Nonprofits can now fundraise and accept donations on Facebook

Facebook has introduced new features today that will make it easier for nonprofit organizations to raise funds for specific causes and receive general donations.
The feature, devoted to specific causes, works by allowing nonprofit organizations to raise funds through dedicated Pages on Facebook’s service. Users will be able to support the cause and “encourage friends on Facebook to join a fundraiser, share when they’ve donated and choose to get updates” from the organization. Nonprofits will presumably be able to raise funds for multiple causes at once.
The addition of this feature could make Facebook a central hub for nonprofits. The service can now be used to communicate with supporters, raise money, and take advantage of Facebook users’ social networks to get important causes in front of more people. (If I didn’t hate the “X for Y” construction so much I’d compare this new feature to a “Kickstarter for charities,” but I do so I won’t.)
The second feature isn’t as novel. Facebook tested a “donate” button with more than 20 nonprofit organizations in December 2013. That button could be added to the bottom of posts and stories, and now it’s back in the same form. “Including a Donate button on a post will give people an easy way to donate directly from News Feed,” Facebook product management VP Naomi Klein said.
Facebook will now let nonprofit organizations display a donate button on their pages, right underneath their profile picture. This will give them a “consistent place to collect donations, even as they update their Page’s content,” Klein said. It will also make it hard for anyone to claim that they looked at a group’s Facebook page but couldn’t figure out how they could make a donation to the organization.
The company said it’s working with groups like the World Wildlife Fund and National Multiple Sclerosis Society to test the new features, and plans to expand it to other United States-based 501c3 nonprofits in the future. It thanked 37 organizations, from Alzheimer’s Association to Wounded Warrior Project, for helping it “shape new ways to help people come together and make a difference.”