UPDATE – March 30, 2011: The Static FBML app can no longer be added to Fan Pages. Existing Static FBML tabs can be edited, but new tabs can’t be created.
The news rippled through the Facebook developer community — Facebook is phasing out FBML, its proprietary mark-up language that facilitates communication with the Facebook Platform API (“Application Programming Interface”).
What will this mean for Static FBML, Facebook’s application that allows users with little coding experience or expertise to create custom tabs for their Business Pages?
And what will it mean for a thriving class of FBML Entrepreneurs, many of whom knew very little about Web coding a year ago but, because mastering a small subset of HTML and FBML tags isn’t exactly rocket science, have been able to build and market to communities of followers who know even less?
In this article, I will explain the change and clarify some of Facebook’s confusing terminology.
Also, I posed some key questions regarding this change, how it affects Static FBML, why Facebook is making this change, whether or not it’s a good thing, and what developers need to know and do to adapt to the change. Read the responses of our esteemed Panel of Experts!
Facebook Drops the First Shoe: Use iFrames, Not FBML
In early 2010, Facebook advised on its FBML page:
I know that I found this advisory a bit confusing. Facebook always offered two “flavors” of custom application, FBML and iFrame, so why would they tell you not to use FBML?
The Other Shoe Drops: No New FBML Apps After 2010
Well, on August 19, 2010, Facebook posted on their developer blog:
What are iFrames and Why the Change?
An iframe is an inline frame, an HTML structure that allows another HTML document to be inserted into an HTML page.
With an iFrame canvas application, the content of your application is located in an HTML document that is NOT hosted on Facebook’s servers. Rather, the content is pulled into the Facebook “chrome” (all the graphical and content that surrounds the content of the application — the header, the right column with ads, etc.) via the iFrame.
Most developers believe the external hosting of app content is the primary, although not only, reason for the move away from FBML.
Aren’t iFrames Already Supported for Custom Tabs that use an iFrame Canvas App?
What Facebook means about iFrames not currently being supported in Page tabs is that on a Page tab, a user action (usually a click) is required in order to load the iFramed content (an external HTML file). So, I assume that “in the next few months” Facebook will no longer require the user action to load iFramed content in custom tabs. (Remember, these are “Facebook Months” which can translate into much longer periods of time!)
iFrames? Canvas Applications? Custom Tabs? What’s the What?
My colleague Tommy Inglis of BrandCraft Inc. explains the differences:
A canvas application describes an application like Farmville or Mafia Wars. The application lives on the Facebook Platform and usually requires a user to “Allow” the application to use their information to operate.
A canvas application is viewed on a Canvas Page which has its own URL distinct from a Fan Page URL.
A custom tab is a tab (on a Fan Page) in Facebook’s top blue-tabbed navigation that isn’t the Wall, Info or other Facebook generic tab.
A custom tab has a maximum allowable width of 520 pixels.
Canvas applications, when viewed on their application URL, have a maximum allowable width of 760 pixels. When added as a tab on a Fan Page, the maximum allowable width is 520 pixels.
The Pros Answer Some Questions about What It All Means
I posed some questions regarding this upcoming shift to some individuals and companies that are in the Facebook application space, developers and “entrepreneurs.” Their responses provide an in-depth view of the Facebook application landscape as it appears today, and where it may be heading.
Click the questions to see the responses »
Contributors to the Q & A
Zach Berke is founder and CEO of Exygy, a San Francisco company that develops custom applications for Web, mobile, APIs, WordPress, Facebook, and more, for startups, social-venture and corporate clients. Prior to joining exygy, Zach was responsible for the development of high-traffic, public-facing websites for the FORTUNE Magazine Business Leader Council.
Joanna Carrero is Creative Chief at Likeable, a social media marketing agency leveraging social media to create more transparent, responsive and ultimately more likeable companies, organizations and governments. Joanna has managed the creative process behind social media marketing for clients like 1-800-FLOWERS, Cumberland Farms, Omaha Steaks, UNO, Stride Rite, and Entenmann’s.
Hazel Grace Dircksen has been using and working on social networking sites for the past 8 years from Friendster to Facebook and everything in between. She founded the Facebook services company, Socialbees, after being an official Facebook Platform launch partner and debuting her first application at Facebook’s F8 conference in 2007.
David Ginsburg is Hector’s chief strategist and tactician, as well as a Social Media geek who doesn’t understand why everyone isn’t spending 16 hours per day participating in the Social Web. His background in radio promotion and programming provided a strong foundation in how to build, engage and sustain an audience-exactly what marketers everywhere are trying to do with Social Media.
Tommy Inglis is responsible for research and development at BrandCraft Inc., a social media design and development think tank.
Nathan Latka is known as “The College Entrepreneur.” He has created a number of social-media-related businesses. After getting several requests for “fan pages” he taught himself FBML and now works with his community at Fan Page Factory providing customized fan pages to his “clients” (Nathan prefers to call them family).
Mary McKnight is the Consumer Marketing Director at Where.com, a leading mobile ad network. She has formerly served as an Online Marketing Director for an EMI Music label and her consulting company, Sacrilicious Marketing, provides Facebook Development as well as reputation management and online marketing to celebrities, musical artists and consumer brands.
Chris Treadaway is Founder and CEO of Lasso, a local business marketing platform that is sold by partners at local newspapers, major technology companies, and major corporations. Previously, Chris was Group Product Manager of Web Strategy at Microsoft, where he was responsible for the company’s Web 2.0 marketing and messaging to developers. He is the co-author of Facebook Marketing An Hour a Day which was released by Sybex on May 3rd.
David Turner is the Technical Lead at BrandGlue, a social media consulting company that focuses on converting Facebook users into a listening audience for your brand. Intel, Mint.com, Kiva, 99designs, and the Washington Redskins love what we do for them.
Bill Warren is a writer and business owner. When he is not running the Custom Fan Page Help Center, he builds custom fanpages for a few of his friends and fans.
If you would like to share your thoughts, speculations or opinions on Facebook’s recently announced changes, please comment below!