Little-known Facebook

Facebook is generally perceived as a venue for discussions, a source of entertainment and a way to get in touch with your loved ones. However, the company’s infrastructure includes multiple departments which churn out new tech, business services and open libraries. So what does Facebook have apart from Facebook?

Consumer and social products

Instagram

Purchasing Instagram was perhaps the most momentous decision for Facebook. Up until 2012, Facebook spent millions of dollars on their buys, but Instagram costed the company $1 billion and became its most expensive purchase at the moment. Instagram requires no introductions; it has become one of the most frequently downloaded apps for iPhone and Android. This acquisition made Facebook a player in its own right on the mobile product market, and in 2014 the company announced that Instagram’s monthly active user count exceeded one billion.

Owing to Instagram’s popularity, Facebook used it as a foundation for an advertising platform in 2013.

WhatsApp

In 2014 Facebook decided to get ahead of the game once more and bought out WhatsApp for $22 billion, asserting that this purchase will boost the growth of both companies, as well as increase the user count. WhatsApp is a cross-platform messenger that uses end-to-end encryption and allows users to exchange messages, images and audio/video recordings. Up until January 2016, WhatsApp users were charged 99¢ for every year starting from the second; now, it’s free.

In February 2016 WhatsApp founders announced in their blog that the user count had exceeded one billion. According to the SimilarWeb analytics company, WhatsApp turned out to be the most popular messenger among Android users in 109 countries.

Facebook Messenger

Five years ago Facebook executives released an app for exchanging messages, photos and videos; its name became an umbrella term for all similar products. Facebook Messenger for Mobile was made available on August 9, 2011, for Android and iOS, and later made its entrance into Windows Phone and Blackberry. For the next four years the app was being adapted for various devices and OS versions and became more and more autonomous up to the point when it could be used in countries whose residents weren’t registered in Facebook for various reasons (these users can simply enter their name and phone number).

2014 became the year two questionable decisions were made. To start with, internal messaging was shut down for Facebook’s mobile version, forcing the users to shift to Messenger; then, the service ceased to support Windows operating systems and Firefox. However, the latter loss was compensated in 2015 with the release of Messenger for browsers; same year, it became possible for everyone to use the service providing only their phone number, and third-party developers could finally create products that would supplement Messenger’s features.

According to Similarweb’s research, Facebook Messenger is now the second most popular messenger in the world, holding the upper hand in 49 (predominantly New World) countries. The same data shows that Facebook’s primary competitor is… itself: the first place in global user coverage belongs to WhatsApp. Moreover, these two services will soon share similar encryption methods, as Messenger’s developers are also introducing end-to-end to their app.

Oculus

Virtually everyone has heard of the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset. This successful startup from the mastermind behind Doom, Quake and Wolfenstein 3D, John Carmack, and Palmer Luckey was bought out by Mark Zuckerberg for $2 billion and was turned into the thriving Oculus virtual reality development company. Apart from the headset, Oculus made the Oculus Touch controller and assisted Samsung in creating the Gear VR device.

In March 2016 the first pre-order batch of Oculus Rift headsets was sent out. Despite several shortcomings and side effects, the headset’s popularity both among buyers and software developers grows daily. The list of games that support the headset is being constantly appended, and developers of popular game engines like Unity, Unreal Engine and CryEngine have announced the integration of Oculus headset support. It seems that Zuckerberg’s acumen may well have started a new era of multimedia technology.

Moments

In 2014 Facebook, Inc. opened a special division for developing mobile apps called Facebook Creative Labs, only to shut it down in December 2015. According to its Crunchbase profile, the division only created three apps: Paper, an app that creates a beautiful digest version of your Facebook feed, a Snapchat lookalike called Slingshot and an app for opening up private anonymous clubs called Rooms. The profile, however, keeps a few of the products in the dark, namely Riff, an app for creating and exchanging 20 second long videos, and Moments, a non-public photo hosting service for those who want to look up photos of themselves somewhere besides public social networks.

From this entire list only Moments is still alive and is being updated to this day (by the time this article was ready, the last updates were dated May 25, 2016, and June 13, 2016, for iOS and Android respectively). Synchronization and facial recognition are the main perks of this app. You can pool the images you find while rummaging through the photos taken during a party into one album and upload it to a cloud to be viewed by your friends (provided they use the app too). Moments can automatically recognize your friends on your photos and offers you to tag them.

In idea the app is reminiscent of Messenger, because it serves as a replacement of the photo syncing feature for mobile Facebook users. When the app was released in June 2015, Facebook announced that everyone who wants to continue making private albums will have to download Moments as syncing will no longer be available in Facebook.

Internet.org

Internet.org is one of Mark Zuckerberg’s most controversial projects, an attempt to drive home the point that Facebook is the Internet. In August 2013 Zuckerberg presented a ten page long statement, insisting that it’s unfair there are still countries in the digital age whose inhabitants can’t afford stable Internet access. Internet.org was supposed to be a way of solving this problem. The project pooled the efforts of Facebook, global tech leaders like Samsung, Ericsson, MediaTek, Opera Software, Nokia and Qualcomm, and mobile operators from developing countries to provide the disadvantaged people of the world with the basic capabilities of the global network. The default package includes access to a text-only version of the Internet, job hunting features and connection to several websites approved by Facebook. Accessing services like YouTube or Google is a separate (and paid) feature.

This last detail is exactly what taints this seemingly noble initiative. Limited, “second-class” freedom may seem as an insult or a trade-off at best, and it’s no surprise that India’s response to this initiative was indignant, condemning it as a relic of the colonialist tradition. As a result, a part of the Internet.org project, the Free Basics app, was banned by TRAI (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India) in February 2016.

Nevertheless, 40 countries still support the project, and Free Basics will become available to the inhabitants of Nigeria in the near future. Moreover, research carried out by the PwC consultancy claims that this project will cause an economic shift that will defeat poverty for more than half a billion people around the globe.

Business products

Atlas

Atlas is a platform for targeted advertisement, bought out from Microsoft. Being Google DoubleClick’s direct competitor, it allows the advertisers to tap into Facebook users’ anonymous info to redirect them to third party apps and websites.

One of the platform’s strengths is its capability to distinguish whether a user is going online from their PC, mobile phone, browser or mobile app, meaning that companies can advertise exclusively to a specific device. In fact, advertisers can link ads to different actions performed by the user. For instance, if the user saw an ad on their mobile device and then made a purchase from their PC, the system will take this into account, record this event and bring home the data.

Among the companies that employ this platform are Nestlé, Microsoft, Ferrero, LiveNation, Estée Lauder and Coca-Cola France.

Audience Network

Facebook makes billions from advertisement using not only its own assets, but also drawing on outside apps and mobile websites with the help of the Facebook Audience Network (FAN) platform, launched in 2014. FAN allows banners to reach Facebook’s mobile users in any media that involve Facebook’s ad tools or even a simple “like” button. The latter feature made it possible for ads to be shown even to website and app guests not registered in Facebook, starting from the end of May 2016; a while later, FAN expanded into the desktop territory.

One year before FAN was launched, Facebook reps were told by the advertisers that the platforms that existed at the moment (Google’s Admob, later acquired by Twitter, MoPub and Millenial Media) were simply not good enough. FAN, on the contrary, seems to satisfy everyone, letting brands increase their coverage while spending less while allowing mobile media to make profit together with Facebook, Inc. All this being said, consideration for users has never been a weak point of FAN, as the ads are picked to be as relevant to the content as possible and do not overlay it, and can simply be turned off.

LiveRail

LiveRail set the trend for the short video as one of the best-selling media formats. Founded in 2007, this start-up catered to big customers such as Major League Baseball, ABC Family, A&E Networks, Gannett and Dailymotion, helping them target their relevant audiences with video advertisement. By July 2014, when Facebook purchased LiveRails, Zuckerberg’s company had already started to actively try and make profit from online ads with the help of Atlas and Audience Network. LiveRail became Facebook’s secret ingredient, pulling the company towards a breakthrough in Web monetization. By the end of 2014 Facebook had spliced LiveRails, Atlas and Audience Network into one scarily smart hydra: customers could now buy ads on Facebook or use Audience Network to relay their ad campaigns using LiveRail and mobile apps.

Facebook Messenger for business

Facebook is actively working on web integration of its pages and services. For instance, just a while ago they have provided entrepreneurs of all statures with a convenient way to contact their clients using a form that can be easily embedded in a website. The benefits of this feedback method are clear: for example, the customer can introduce corrections after placing their order on a website using a form, and the sales manager will be immediately informed via the messenger. This way, the manager doesn’t have to keep several pages open and jump from one tab to another; instead, the manager can just go to their Facebook or Messenger account and you can rest assured that not a single customer’s question will be missed.

FbStart

Two years ago Facebook announced the launch of a start-up support program called FbStart. Mobile app developers can try their luck and register as participants, and if they are successful, they can enjoy free services from both the Facebook team and their numerous partners, including but not limited to Adobe, Mailchimp, Usertesting, Dropbox and SurveyMonkey. App advertisement, testing and software are all sponsored services, for a total cost of either $8000 or $40000 (depending on the category your entry was approved for). Owing to this project, startuppers can concentrate on developing their app and let the pros handle everything else.

Facebook at Work

To compete with Slack in the private enterprise social network field, Facebook decided to release Facebook at Work. The main ace in its hand is simply being the same old Facebook with its familiar interface, but populated by coworkers and filled with news from your enterprise’s interior life. Other differences include a no-nonsense grey color scheme and the lack of advertisement. FB at Work is standalone, meaning that no news from friends and subscriptions will end up in the “strictly business” newsfeed; however, switching accounts is a possibility. There is also a proper Messenger in the form of the Work Chat app that allows chatting both one-on-one and in groups.

The service is now used by more than 450 enterprises, with a staggering sixty thousand more in the queue. FB at Work’s director, Julien Codorniou, has ambitious plans for conquering Asia; according to his words, some Asian companies with thousands of employees have no online connection between its workers whatsoever. The way monetizing is going to be handled is somewhat unclear at the moment: while the official position states that only premium features and third party app integrations will be charged, the unofficial version is that the user might have to pay from $1 to $5 per month in the future.

Facebook Insights

As Facebook newsfeed algorithms are being constantly changed, SMM specialists may find it difficult to trace content behavior. If you’re a group admin, you have a powerful and helpful tool at your disposal to analyze various metrics which will let you transform your page from a placeholder to something that is actually used. The Insights tab in the group panel is an inexhaustible source of data on the factors influencing the popularity of the group as a whole and of separate posts in particular. Analyzing this data will allow you to determine the best date and time to promote your content and understand user demand.

Basic metrics can be found in the Reach and Posts sections. Breakdown of user responses to various posts (clicking the post, image or the external link, likes, sharing, etc.) helps organize the most viable strategy and reveals the secrets of attention-grabbing writing. Anyone who wants to delve deeper can download an Excel spreadsheet by clicking Export in the top right corner of the page. The data included in the spreadsheet might help you realize that it’s not everyone’s likes and reposts that matter but your actual viewership, and also provides insight into the kinds of content that generate the most traffic.

Facebook Analytics for Apps

Ad clicks on their own have lost their value in March 2015, when at the latest F8 conference Facebook revealed their Facebook Analytics for Apps free marketing tool. Developers, advertisers, marketing experts and analysts alike can plug it in via Facebook SDK to receive a detailed breakdown of all the actions carried out by mobile app users with the help of gender, age and location filters. Experts can also trace the changes in app usage during a certain period and compare the actions performed by the users on different platforms and devices. At the same conference, Facebook reps made it evident that these days the most important rating is the nature and magnitude of influence a given marketing campaign has on a given demographic.

Instant Articles

Instant Articles is the sensational service for content distribution by various Internet media, aimed at allowing publishers to release longreads in the Facebook mobile app, preserving the design that resembles the original website’s pages as much as possible, complete with HD photo, video and audio support as well as other interactive elements.

Navigating from the Facebook newsfeed to a website does not always mean that the page will load instantly. In countries like Mexico, Brazil, the Philippines and India it implies that the mobile device audience will be left behind because of the slow local connection. For most media, traffic is still the primary success rating, and Instant Articles provides faster connection for both old and new readers, saving their time by making it possible to read the same content using an app instead of downloading hefty website pages.

Facebook had gathered feedback extensively before launching Instant Articles, and the most practical suggestion, among other things, came from Buzzfeed’s VP of Product. The idea was to provide platform integration with analytic tools  like comScore and Google Analytics, as well as publishers’ own tools; monetization and design control to ensure full accordance with the publisher’s style were also suggested. The first customers of Instant Articles were BuzzFeed, the New York Times, National Geographic, The Atlantic', NBC News, The Guardian, BBC News and a few others. On April 12, 2016, the F8 conference day, Facebook made the platform publicly available.

AppLinks

At the F8 conference in April 2014 Parse’s CEO Ilya Sukhar announced AppLinks, a platform that would allow connecting native apps with each other by navigating external links, similar to tab navigation in a browser.

Previously, clicking on a link in an app opened up a website which wasn’t always convenient and required logging in or registration. From now on, if linked apps are installed on your phone and are included in the AppLinks platform, navigating a link will open the specific page of the relevant mobile app, which is made possible by simply adding a few lines of code into the website’s pages.

Millions of apps including Goodreads, Dropbox, Tumblr, Spotify and Pinterest became partners of the platform. Advertisers profited from the platform as well, especially when the developers of AppLinks topped it up with an analytics system than traces associative traffic sources, a metric that SEO experts consider difficult to calculate.

Security products

ThreatExchange

In March 2015 Facebook launched ThreatExchange, a platform for exchanging information on cyberthreats, software vulnerabilities and viruses between IT security companies and experts. This kind of data exchange used to be a hassle and included e-mail correspondence, spreadsheet exchange and complicated procedures for transfer of code or other private data. ThreatExchange streamlined the entire process.

As a result, the platform is in high demand. While only four companies (Tumblr, Twitter, Pinterest, Yahoo) participated in the test launch, today there are more than 250 participants, and you can fill in your entry for beta-testing here. 

ThreatExchange was created with the help of ThreatData, a framework created for storing and providing experts with information on cyberthreats.

PrivateCore

In 2014 Facebook purchased a developer company that dealt with data storage and processing server security. The company created the vCage technology that protects data from malware, unauthorized access and infected devices. According to Joe Sullivan, a Facebook rep, the vCore technology will be integrated with the social network’s servers to reliably safeguard the users from any hijacks or personal data leaks.

Products for developers

React

Basing his work on the XHP library that is used for creating HTML code elements, a Facebook programmer called Jordan Walke created a JavaScript library called React. The same year the React-based Facebook newsfeed was implemented; the next year, React-powered Instagram came in, and a while later Walke allowed public access to the library.

The programmer wanted React to simplify the creative process when designing user-friendly interfaces in apps, and his colleagues agree that it does its job nicely. The library is praised for its component principle which makes it possible to use the same fragments of code for different browsers. Another perk of React is that all the changes in the data are reflected on the user end on developer’s demand. However, there is still disagreement concerning React. Some mistake it for a framework and claim that it’s inadequate (for a framework, supposedly), while others say that reactive programming (hence the name React) has never been so seamless and transparent before. Just keep in mind that tomorrow’s memes on Imgur, welcoming hosts from Airbnb, news aggregation on Feedly, Instagram’s bottomless gallery and, finally, Facebook itself, all exist and function because of React.

React Native

In 2015, a year and a half after React was released, Facebook made the day for developers all around the world by creating React Native. The new library for making full-fledged apps for mobile platforms was not much different from React, as it let  developers write web apps using components and then easily carry them over to either Android or iOS without having to hire an entire staff for this job. At the F8 conference in April 2016, Facebook together with Microsoft and Samsung announced that React Native will come to Windows Phone and Smart TV under the Tizen OS.

Origami

In 2014 Facebook granted designers access to Origami, a plugin for the Quartz Composer visual programming environment, which is a tool for creating interactive prototypes of mobile interfaces. Quartz Composer was used in designing Facebook apps like Instagram, Messenger, Groups and Paper; in fact, Origami was created when Paper was being developed. Origami 2.0, released in 2015, supports code exporting, gestures, Sketch integration and a presentation mode.

Interactive prototypes have to be tested somewhere. This is usually done using a viewer in Quartz Composer on PC and a plugin called Origami Live (released in 2015) on mobile devices. The plugin allows you to connect your iPhone or iPad to Mac and track all the changes introduced into the prototype on the device’s screen in real time.

In April 2016 the Origami ecosystem was enriched with a tool called Origami Studio, which works under OS X and allows for even faster creation of prototypes. Its interface is built on the visual programming principle in which the developer basically connects rectangular blocks instead of writing code. Origami Live will become available this year.

Rebound

Rebound is a life-saver when it comes to creating beautiful physics-driven animation in various Android apps. The library simulates spring dynamics: type in the initial conditions for the spring (for example, friction or tension) and you might get, for instance, a photo that is zooming in or out. Rebound was also ported to JavaScript, which makes it possible to actively employ it in website design.

Fresco

As time went by, app developers were faced with the problem of downloading, processing, displaying and storing various images in the device’s memory. Stuffing your device with pictures will one day cram it so much that your phone or tablet’s performance will start to drive you mad. Fresco is a library that helps prevent this.

Developed specifically for Android, Fresco takes into account the way this OS works with memory. While Fresco is busy with the efficient use of memory and resources, the developers can focus on their tasks at hand. Fresco’s distinct approach allows it to be used even on low-end devices with limited resources.

Buck

Buck is an .apk builder for the Android platform. It is used to create apps, the separate modules of which can be used in other apps without the need to recompile them. Buck also compares favorably to other builders in terms of speed. Facebook, Facebook Messenger and Instagram apps are all built using Buck.

Infer

Another tool to make a web app developer’s life easier, Infer is designed for combing apps for errors. In essence, Infer scans the code during compilation, analyses it for possible errors and, if it detects any, it warns the user and saves the error log in a separate file. Infer works with apps written on Java, C and Objective-C, making it equally helpful when developing apps for both Android and iOS.

Stetho

Those who have written Android apps that extensively use databases know that delving into the SQL data labyrinth is often a grueling necessity of the testing process. It may be needed to determine why the app suddenly crashed when handling a request or simply make sure everything’s working how it’s supposed to. This is a time when emulators or devices with superuser rights connected to the PC come to the rescue, letting you introduce changes into the file system on the fly.

The Stetho library offers a better, simpler way of doing this. Adding a few lines of code into the app and connecting the Android device to your PC creates a bridge between the app and Chrome DevTools. Now the developer can monitor and change the app’s database in the browser window without having to hijack the device or additionally tamper with the app.

Conceal

If an Android app has to store the user data, whether it is e-mail, images or video, Conceal is a godsend. Conceal is a library for SD card data encryption. Facebook developers praise the higher data encryption/decryption speed in comparison with the competing products, and encourage the use of this library when developing apps for low-end smartphones.

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