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  • The Future of Static FBML Custom Tabs, Now that Facebook is Moving from FBML to iFrames

    Goodbye FBMLUPDATE: Read my article “How Long Will Static FBML be Supported by Facebook?” wherein I try to put to rest the rampant confusion!

    Yesterday, August 19, 2010, Facebook announced that in the pursuit of simplifying and standardizing their platform, they would be moving away from FBML and towards iFrames, both for canvas applications and Page tabs.

    Facebook Static FBML, an app that allows those with minimal coding experience to create their own custom tabs, may be a victim of this change, as well as those amateur coders and the FBML Entrepreneurs who love them.

    Facebook’s Announcement of the FBML / iFrame Change

    Namita Gupta wrote on the Facebook Developer Blog:

    We are also moving toward IFrames instead of FBML for both canvas applications and Page tabs. As a part of this process, we will be standardizing on a small set of core FBML tags that will work with both applications on Facebook and external Web pages via our JavaScript SDK, effectively eliminating the technical difference between developing an application on and off Facebook.com.

    Facebook’s Previous Advice about Moving your Deleted Boxes Content to Custom Tabs? Forget about it!

    Back in February when Facebook was letting everyone know that they would soon be getting rid of both the boxes Wall sidebar and the Boxes tab, it advised: “Create custom content in FBML on a custom tab (optional). Move deleted content from Boxes to a new tab on your page by adding the FBML application to your page.”

    Well, that was then and this is now. Now it appears they’re saying something very different.

    Where does Static FBML fit into these FBML / iFrame changes?

    Static FBML is Facebook’s own application for creating custom tabs using CSS, HTML and FBML. On the Static FBML application page, it is described: “Add advanced functionality to your Page using the Facebook Static FBML application. This application will add a box to your Page in which you can render HTML or FBML (Facebook Markup Language) for enhanced Page customisation.”

    Certainly, as Facebook is clear to point out, custom tabs created with Static FBML or FBML applications will continued to be supported indefinitely, but developers were also clearly advised:

    “By the end of this year, we will no longer allow new FBML applications to be created, so all new canvas applications and Page tabs will have to be based on IFrames and our JavaScript SDK.”

    OK, so does that include Static FBML? If all new Page tabs have to be based on iFrames and the Facebook JavaScript SDK, it sounds a bit bleak for Static FBML…

    And the same blog post mentioned:

    “As a part of this process, we will be standardizing on a small set of core FBML tags that will work with both applications on Facebook and external Web pages via our JavaScript SDK.

    So which FBML tags will be deprecated/eliminated and which will be a part of the “small set of core FBML tags”? I’ve spoken with a few colleagues who also work in Facebook development and they’ve mentioned such tags as fb:visible-to-connection, fb:share and fb:comments being eliminated.

    Demise of Static FBML = Demise of the Amateur Coder

    The beauty of the Static FBML application is that it allows people with very minimal Web coding or development experience to build their own custom tabs, usually with the aid of some free or commercial FBML templates that require very basic HTML knowledge and allow the user to just copy and paste the content into the Static FBML box.

    However, setting up iFrame custom applications requires significantly more knowledge. At a minimum:

    • Downloading and uploading files via FTP;
    • Working with, and troubleshooting, HTML iframe code.

    To Web professionals, the above is trivial. But to those who were able to easily adapt their basic HTML skills to the requirements of Static FBML, it may be a steep hill to climb. The ground has definitely shifted.

    Fan Pages that Cater to Amateur Custom Tab Creators

    There is a cottage industry of Facebook FBML “Entrepreneurs” (most of whom are new to Web coding, a skill which can take years to fully master) who are going to have to raise their game in order to stay in the game, and keep their clamoring fans happy.

    If Static FBML does indeed go away early next year, it will take not only an entire ecosystem of amateur custom-tab creators, but also many of the fan sites (and their FBML Entrepreneurs) that feed them a steady stream of FBML tags and pre-coded templates.

    Will Static FBML Be Available in 2011?

    At this point, Facebook is mute on this question. And it’s hard to tell from their recent announcements what will be its fate. Stay tuned.

    Should people continue to develop new Static FBML custom tabs?

    Any custom tabs developed before the changeover will be supported into the indefinite future. We know for sure that this applies to the creation of FBML canvas applications.

    How Facebook handles Static FBML custom tabs will be interesting. Static FBML is Facebook’s own application and quite recently Facebook was recommending that page admins use custom tabs for boxes content when support for boxes is yanked.

    And Static FBML tabs are used by hundreds of thousands of Facebook users (the Static FBML app page has 429,158 fans!), so I would expect support for existing Static FBML tabs — and for the common FBML tags it supports (fb:swf, fb:mp3, fb:share-button, etc.) — to continue for quite some time.

    Of course, we sell custom Static FBML templates, and we are asked if it’s no longer viable to purchase them because of the impending change. I believe that our templates, like FBML canvas apps, will be supported well into the future.

    As Namita Gupta wrote: “We will, however, continue to support existing implementations of the older authentication mechanism as well as FBML on Page tabs and applications.

    Facebook may just let FBML fade away by attrition.

    Please post any information you find out in the comments!

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    Comments

    1. Kim Fowler says:

      sad.

    2. Thanks for all the great info. My only concern is that since fbml was easier for the “regular” people to use, it gave some small businesses the chance to customize their own pages a no/low cost. Many people can’t afford to hire programmers to create Facebook pages and will likely be the ones penalized.

      • I agree that it’s not a good thing for small businesses. But maybe Facebook will surprise us with some method to easily create iFrame tabs, or keep Static FBML around with enough FBML tags supported to allow nice custom tabs. I do know that they’re promising documentation for iFrames in the coming months. We’ll just have to wait and see. 🙂

      • I think tools that cater to the small business allowing them to easily customize a page without knowing/using FBML and that are affordable will be the wave of the future. Tools like Facebook TabSite (http://TabSite.com) already have content on outsider servers and push content to Fan Page Tabs, and you update it via a WYSIWYG editor!

    3. It will be interesting to see if facebook creates an *easy* way to do an IFrame within a tab, instead of requiring that a canvas app be installed. That said… even *if* IFrame can be implemented easily within a tab, the new “crop” as you call them of fbml “experts” (too funny) will have to know how to write real web pages and host them on external servers. Hmm.

      If facebook makes this difficult (like requiring a canvas app first and/or JavaScript SDK), I for one will be contracting with you to do the “hard coding” in the backend so my cool looking “stuff” can still be sold to my new clients.

      This may well be a new source of income for you. Keep us posted- you are an invaluable resource. (And no folks I am not a paid ringer). 🙂

    4. This is a bummer for those who have been using Facebook as a relatively easy and inexpensive way to build a mini-website! I’m glad to get the heads up though.

    5. I’m curious. I was going to buy one of your templates… but what is the point of buying it if in the future (I’m talking end of 2010) I will not be able to customize it with new information.

      Or will we still be able to edit/add onto that html stuff? Thanks for all the help!

      • Good question, Justine, and I’ve amended my post to address it!

        Any custom tabs developed before the, er, clampdown, will be supported into the indefinite future. We know for sure that this applies to the creation of canvas applications, but we don’t know the future of Facebook’s own Static FBML app.

        Because so many people have used the app to create custom tabs, I suspect that Facebook will retain support for the tabs indefinitely, including support for those FBML tags most commonly used (fb:visible-to-connection, fb:swf, fb:mp3, fb:share-button, etc.).

        So support for the approach taken in the templates we offer for sale should continue indefinitely, as well.

        • That is fantastic! Thank you very much Tim. I appreciate all of your help =)

          Sorry if I was asking the obvious, I just wanted to be sure.

    6. Great post, love your blog- very helpful. Question- would the switch to 520px width affect how FBML caches or calls images to display? I have my image hosted on my website’s server, and it’s showing up correctly if I go directly to the link, but the old image is still showing up on Facebook and it’s been several days.

    7. My main concern regarding this upcoming change is: whichwill be the “correct” way of creating a new (iframed) FB Page tab?

      I mean:
      Should we rely on the current way, which is by creating a FB App (a canvas app) and then adding it as a tab to a FB Page?
      This method always smelled a bit “hackish” to me, as it requires to create one new app for each new tab you want to add to a FB Page, afaik.

      Or will Facebook provide a new method (the evolution of “Static FBML”) to let developers create iframed FB Page tabs without resorting to a FB canvas app?

      Right now, I would much prefer to begin moving away from Static FBML, and start creating new FB Page tabs using the “correct” method.

      Any insight on this will be much appreciated.
      And thanks for the invaluable, fresh, to-the-point info you usually post, Mr. Timware

      • In last Thursday’s blog post by Facebook’s Namita Gupta, she wrote: “We will begin supporting IFrames for Page tabs in the next few months. Developers building canvas applications should start using IFrames immediately.”

        Since you can already have a custom Page tab that uses iFrames, if it’s pulled from an iFrame canvas app, I read this to mean that Facebook may no longer require the user action to load the iFrame.

        Or perhaps, as you speculate, they will provide an easy-to-use app to embed an iFrame on a custom tab (Static FBML v.2?).

        The future is definitely uncertain…

    8. I’ve never really used iFrames before – but I’m under the impression that its a source page that’s displayed within the iFrame page, right?

      If that’s correct wouldn’t this be a good thing? If the source page could be standard HTML that isn’t reliant on Facebook to be rendered we’d get to do everything a normal webpage can do. Also you can edit the sourcepage without ever having to go into Facebook itself.

      This is all speculation of course, but if this is the case the future may not be a scary as we think. Plenty of web tuts on iFrames I’m sure 🙂

      • This is how most programmers and coding professionals feel about it, that it’s a move in the right direction for the very reasons you state.

        Some folks think that professionals like this because creating a canvas app requires more actual Web skills and coders will get more work. Although such may be the case, that’s certainly not how I or my colleagues feel. It’s good because support for FBML has always been spotty and inconsistent and to bring Facebook apps in line with Web standards is a good thing.

        I think the future looks good.

    9. I can confirm, that as of yesterday, new installations of Static FBML no longer work. We attempted this on multiple pages on several different accounts. If you have an existing Static FBML application installed, that will work, but not for new installs. This is a surprising development to us and terrible for small businesses and non-profits. iFrames, here we come.

      • Hi Steve, I can confirm that as of today I was able to add Static FBML to a Fan Page, as always. If you visit the Static FBML page, under the top-left avatar, you should see “Add to my Page”. If you do, it’s still possible. If you don’t see it, and you’re certain that you are an admin of Pages that currently don’t have Static FBML installed, and you’re logged in to Facebook, then I’m not sure what’s going on.

    10. Love this blog. Seriously. Wanted to address one thing though – someone mentioned that this might be bad for small businesses – I think just the opposite. My clients are almost ALL small business clients. Some do not have the time or money to really invest in a full fledged site. I’ve begun creating “mini sites” for use on Facebook Fan Pages that really give small businesses a lot of value. These sites are powered by WordPress – so not a lot of work or expense involved – and then displayed on fan pages by creating the iframe canvas app – which, thanks to THIS blog – is seriously easy to do. Business owners use their Fan Pages AS their basic “site” – it’s really great for restaurant owners, salons, etc., because they can login to their mini ‘wordpress’ site and change the content whenever they want – things like menus, coupons, promotions, etc….It really gives them a LOT of power – and doesn’t cost an arm and a leg 🙂

      I would think anyone that knew how to leverage FBML could also follow instructions to create the app – and surely anyone that can leverage FBML can create a wordpress (or other content management) site. These tools are all freely available – just have to leverage them 🙂

      • Hey Jeanne, or anyone else that may know.

        Could you elaborate a bit on how you create the WordPress “mini site” you commented about?

        Are you creating your own custom theme with the proper dimensions?

        Sound like a really smart way to handle things. Any information would be appreciated.

        • Mark :
          Hey Jeanne, or anyone else that may know.
          Could you elaborate a bit on how you create the WordPress “mini site” you commented about?
          Are you creating your own custom theme with the proper dimensions?
          Sound like a really smart way to handle things. Any information would be appreciated.

          Mark, see my response below (forgot to reply directly to it)….

    11. Mark – yes – the them is only 500 px wide. Here’s a sample of one (not being used yet – this is still in test stages):

      http://www.facebook.com/pages/Southaven-MS/Good-Life-Catering-and-Meals-to-Go/151404708216329?v=app_108627229196561&ref=ts

      I’ve actually got several in test stages right now – none are live yet, but hopefully soon! 🙂

      I just started learning wordpress about 8 months ago. I can hack at themes and I can use tools like Artisteer to create them (although the code isn’t very elegant). I don’t actually hand code my own themes. But I’ve learned to read code and hack away at php, etc…I’m still just a newbie, though 🙂

      But I do know lots of mom and pop shops that are really leveraging facebook instead of a full fledged sites. If I can give them a mini site displayed in the marketing environment they are used to using, it makes them more comfortable. Sure it’s nothing but a narrow width site – displayed inside the fan page, but it’s all about perception – and many of these business owners just think “facebook, facebook, facebook” !! 🙂

      Now if I could just sell more…………;)

      • Thanks for the response Jeanne, I greatly appreciate the information.

        I viewed your website and will keep it on file. Maybe we can collaborate in the future.

    12. I tried adding a new Static FBML app to my page today and was not allowed. I also tried to edit a current Static FBML app that was added to my page but was not allowed to do that either. I can add it to a tab on my page but that’s it.

    13. So, let me get this straight, I need to create an app (http://developers.facebook.com/docs/guides/canvas/) in order to create a TAB that allows an IFRAME to work?

      I’ve been trying for 3 hrs to get to work on a static FBML tab.

      If that statement is true, then can I create 1 canvas for 20-30 clients or will I need to create 1 canvas per client? Just have each of them locate and ADD that app to their tab?

      • Iframes will only work in an iframe canvas application, and require a user action (a click on an activation image or text) to load the iframed content.

        And, yes, you’ll need one canvas app for each client.

    14. My facebook static fbml text area won’t open up completely. There are always several lines of code at the end that aren’t visible. Any suggestions as to how to get those last few lines of fbml visible? Have you had this problem?
      Thanks