Facebook Permeates Everything; App Center Will Be Its Mobile Extension

Facebook will soon have an application store...well, not exactly. Facebook will soon have an application repository. A display showcase. Those are probably more apt descriptions of what the social giant will unveil with App Center. Essentially, Facebook will turn itself into an application hub - a traffic director for social apps and games across any device and any platform. This is not the rumored “end-run around Apple’s App Store” that many talk about; rather, App Center is a unique proposition, and one that is 100% Facebook.

To understand where Facebook is coming from with App Center, it helps to know the company’s modus operandi to this point in its history. Facebook is built around two central principles: the browser and sharing. The browser is what Facebook is built upon, even for its native (hybrid) apps. Sharing is the core philosophy of Facebook, as everything it does has to be social in one way or another. The concept of the “social graph” on the Web existed before Facebook, but the company has taken the idea to a whole new level.

In many ways, the App Center was destined to be built one way or another since 2007. When we look back 20 or 40 years from now, we will note that 2007 was the year in which two very big things happened: Facebook opened its platform to be built upon, and Apple released the iPhone. 

Our current era of Web technology and innovation is built upon three principles: the cloud, social sharing and smart mobile devices. While we cannot point to one distinct event that signifies the rise of the cloud (an old concept that has taken on new meaning in the last several years), the iPhone and the Facebook platform are seminal moments that point to the kind of software that is being built today. 

What App Center does is aggregate the mobile and social applications that are the result of those trends that were started in 2007. For Facebook, it hinges on the ability to tie mobile applications and websites to its platform. That is a key concept for Facebook. App Center is not just some application repository for any app that can be found on iOS, Android, Facebook or the mobile Web. Facebook is aggregating its own ecosystem into a destination that is (in theory) easy to use and easy to find.

That is why we see some strict guidelines in what will be found in the App Center. Any iOS, Android or Web app that is listed in Facebook’s repository must use Facebook as its login credential and have a Facebook Page specifically designed for App Center. Facebook will review any app submitted to App Center for quality - but also to measure how social the app is. This is not like Apple’s review process for apps submitted to its App Store. Apple is looking to make sure apps have appropriate content, do not contain malware and meet the company’s (sometime absurd) policies. Facebook is looking to showcase apps that highlight Facebook. 

Facebook has permeated itself as one of the backbones of the Web. The social graph and its new Open Graph are embedded into hundreds of millions of websites for users to like, recommend and share. By doing this, Facebook has successfully infiltrated the plumbing that supports the Web that people see everyday. It is the same with mobile; Facebook apps are not contained just to the Facebook platform. Social apps are tied to the platform but also reside within every app store that serves mobile devices, from Apple’s App Store, Android’s Google Play, the Windows Phone Marketplace, BlackBerry App World, Getjar or the Amazon Appstore. As a result, Facebook is ever-present, both on the Web and on mobile.

And that is why App Center will work. Facebook does not need to create an app store where it sells only mobile Web apps that work on its platform. App Center is more of a display showcase than a store. It redirects users to whatever app store or mobile Web application they may want. Some might think it is counterintuitive for Facebook to send traffic away from its own website, but the fact of the matter is that nobody ever leaves Facebook. It goes with the user wherever they are. By sending traffic to the App Store and Google Play, Facebook is guaranteeing that users will still, in one form or another, be tied to Facebook. 

We will see how this works when App Center is rolled out to Facebook’s hundreds of millions of users. Down the road, Facebook could eventually decide that App Center is better suited not sending users to the App Store and Google Play and creating a marketplace that is only for HTML5-based Web apps tied to Facebook’s platform. While that would help centralize and define Facebook’s mobile presence, that would be counter to Facebook’s longtime approach of being everywhere, all the time.