Facebook Opens the Timeline Apps Floodgates to Startups and Developers

Often a startup’s success is dependent on distribution. Tools like Apple’s App Store have been instrumental in getting apps and startups out to the masses – just ask the creators of Angry Birds. Now Facebook’s new Timeline is opening up their userbase of over 800 million people to startups and developers through apps for Timeline.

Facebook introduced Timeline in September 2011, and debuted it to the public in mid-December. Currently only a small number of users are actually using the new interface, though a million people signed up to access the beta before it was introduced worldwide. At the f8 conference in September Facebook also announced that Timeline apps would be available to users so they could broadcast their activity, and this week they opened up access to over 60 new apps.

New apps for Facebook Timeline include big names like TripAdvisor and Ticketmaster, but also include several smaller companies hoping to capitalize on the social network’s audience and content virality. They include textbook-rental service Chegg; online gift card company GiftRocket; and fast-growing discount design startup Fab.com.

Toronto-based online fundraising platform Artez Interactive is one of the recently-announced launch partners for Facebook’s Timeline apps. They were approached by Facebook in September 2011, one of 60 developers selected to participate, and announced their app at the f8 conference. Their Friendship Powered Fundraising app went live on January 18th, after Facebook announced the availability of Timeline for developers, and launch partners include Free the Children and Kids Help Phone. It allows users to share info about charities they support – donations appear on their Timeline and on their friends’ News Feeds.

“Our new app adds to the powerful social fundraising features recently introduced in the Friendship Powered Fundraising Platform including donations to charities through Facebook on the web and the mobile web and the ability for fundraisers to register for events using their Facebook account,” Artez CEO James Appleyard said in an interview. “This Friendship Powered Fundraising™ app for Facebook Timeline is just one more extension of our commitment to helping charities fundraise more effectively.”

Artez has a waiting list from other clients, which Appleyard says is because the app comes at no additional cost, and because it taps into Facebook’s network of users. He says because Artez deals with sensitive information including donations, they are always very mindful of the privacy aspects involved with launching a new initiative. “Our clients have not voiced concerns over privacy because this app is not part of the actual donation process, and no confidential information or contribution amount will be posted to Facebook, or shared with Facebook,” he said.

The introduction of Facebook Timeline apps ties back to our article about the Washington Post’s Social Reader and the idea of “frictionless sharing.” When a user adds an app to their Timeline it doesn’t broadcast activity right away, rather it updates as a user interacts with the app. So if a user adds GoodReads, it will automatically broadcast when they start a new book, finish an existing read, or update their progress. While users can control the app settings and control the frequency of updates and the audience who sees them, the default is that the apps automatically share all activity. For startups this means automatic distribution to a user’s base of friends.

As we saw with the Social Reader, users are already lamenting apps automatically sharing their activity as the default, and users’ friends are complaining about over-sharing content. Facebook also announced this week that developers can submit new apps, which means startups can take advantage of the distribution offered by Timeline. According to PC Mag, Facebook is wading through app submissions from developers, but said it would accept “any application” for Timeline. Whether or not users are annoyed, it’s a great distribution tool for startups, and we’ll only see the number of Timeline apps grow exponentially as it’s rolled out across the entire Facebook user base. “Timeline apps is a quick and easy way to immediately spread the word about a startup’s service offering, on the leading social media site – Facebook,” Artez’s Appleyard said. “Given limited resources and budget restrictions, startups should consider using social media tools, like Timeline apps, to share their message with friends and potential customers.”

Update: Facebook announced on January 24th that Timeline will become mandatory for all users in the next few weeks. Users will have seven days to update their profiles before the changes set in.



Erin Bury

Erin Bury

Erin Bury is a Co-founder and CEO at Willful, an online estate planning platform. Also a former Managing Director at Eighty-Eight, a creative communications agency based in Toronto. She was formerly the Managing Editor at BetaKit. Follow her on Twitter at @erinbury.

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