Facebook Courts Developers Anew with Ad Network and App Tools

Facebook hosted a develop conference in San Francisco Wednesday, its first such effort in three years. The event included not only new user-facing features in the giant social network, but a range of initiatives that should entice developers to look at Facebook with a new pair of money-tinted glasses.

The most significant announcement for developers is FbStart, a program for start-ups that offers cash and other incentives. There are two main tracks for FbStart, one for companies just launching their first idea, and another for those who've already established themselves and are looking to grow. Facebook is promising developers up to $30,000 in cash, as well as credits with its new ad network (more on that in a sec) and Parse. The program also provides access to product testing, recruiting, customer care, video conferencing, and document management. According to Facebook, any Android or iOS developer with a public app can apply. Details are yet to come. (Apparently Facebook isn't ready to support Windows Phone or BlackBerry at the moment.)

The company, with several partners, introduced App Links. App Links are a tool for developers that will eventually make it less painful for people to access content within applications. App Links is open source, free for developers to use, and includes SDKs for easy implementation. App Links works on all the major mobile platforms, including Android, BlackBerry, iOS, and Windows Phone. With it, developers can plug into the Facebook Index API to check if any URL can be deep-linked. App Links also support mobile only, which means developers who have an app but not a web site can still publish their links via Parse, Facebook, or other services. Some of the initial supporters of App Link include Facebook, Parse, DropBox, Pinterest, Spotify, Hulu, Flixster, and Endomondo.

Facebook also introduced Audience Nework, its monetization service. Audience Network will allow developers to take advantage of Facebook advertising in non-Facebook apps. Facebook explained, "The Audience Network’s native format ads fit the look and feel of the respective app supporting an ad. Early tests have shown that these ads drive great performance. Regardless of format, there’s no need to upload new creative — ads in the Audience Network use the same images you use for your ads on Facebook."

For consumers (and developers, too), Facebook announced Anonymous Login. This tool, which is being beta tested at the moment, will allow people to log into apps using their Facebook credentials - but without sharing any of their personal data with the app in question. Facebook said it wants to engage users in a way that makes them more comfortable. Facebook believe allowing them to protect their identity while also trying a new app can help. Facebook expects to roll out Anonymous Login to most users in several months.

Facebook is also giving users more granular control over which details they share with a given app when using Facebook login. For example, users will be able to share their email address but not their birthday or street address if they want. This new Facebook login will roll out slowly over the coming months. Further, Facebook said it is creating a new dashboard so users can easily see what they've shared with various apps. The dashboard will display which apps have full access to their data and which have been logged into anonymously, and allow users to make changes on the fly. The redesigned app control panel will be rolling out over the next few weeks.

Last, Facebook introduced the idea of a Mobile Like Button. According to Facebook, the Like button can be added to apps to let people like content in the app with one tap. Facebook is debuting an iOS version of the Mobile Like Button first, with an Android version coming soon.

More details about these and other programs are available in Facebook's developer portal.

Be sure to read the next Tools article: Embarcadero Technologies Woos C++ Developers With Free Android License