As of Sunday evening, Facebook users can try out a new profile design. While part of the redesign seems aimed at cleaning up the site’s interface, the changes also affect the third-party applications that run on Facebook, undercutting some of the techniques that application developers use to expand their audiences.
Facebook opened up to third-party developers just over a year ago, with the launch of Facebook Platform in May 2007. Developers host their applications on their own servers but make them available through Facebook’s interface. Facebook users can browse through lists of applications and add any that they find interesting to their profile pages. Users can grant applications permission to access some of the information in their profiles, to publish notices that appear on the profile pages, and to send notices to their friends. Developers raced to get access to Facebook’s users, who the site claims now number more than 80 million.
Specifically, the profile redesign splits the existing profile into tabs, emphasizing the wall, where a user’s friends leave him or her short, semipublic messages, and the news feed, which describes the user’s activities on the site. Most important for third-party developers, it removes most of the applications that the user has installed from the main page of the profile, relegating them to a “boxes” tab instead. To compensate for the applications’ reduced visibility, Facebook allows users to add tabs for their favorite applications, presenting the possibility that developers could design entire sections of a user’s profile.