Facebook's Application Verification program can be improved, but it's good enough and money well spent because it significantly raises the visibility and usage of certified applications, according to participating developers.
The program, in which external developers pay an annual fee to have Facebook review and hopefully certify as "trustworthy" their applications, initially met with a wave of criticism when it was announced almost a year ago.
At the time, critics said the program would unjustly benefit developers with enough money to have their applications reviewed, while harming programmers with fewer financial resources.
Critics also said that Facebook should ensure that all applications built for its site be trustworthy, and that developers shouldn't bear the burden of financing such a review process.
Facebook countered by saying that indeed all external applications on its platform have to comply with a strict set of guidelines and policies, and that the Application Verification program is optional.
The social networking company said the program is aimed at developers who want to distinguish their applications as going beyond the basic requirements with which all 350,000 third-party applications on Facebook's platform must comply with.
Facebook also envisions the program as encouraging more members to install applications, especially people who are generally reticent about externally built apps.
Now that the dust has settled and the program nears its first anniversary, it appears developers are reaping enough benefits to justify the cost, which is US$375 for a year's certification, except for students and nonprofits, who pay a $175 fee.
Still, participating developers would like to see Facebook promote and explain the program more to end users, as well as sweeten the pot of goodies that verified applications get. Developers also suggest that Facebook make the review process smoother and quicker.
Today, the benefits include a badge stating the application has been verified, advertising credits and discounts, better placement in the applications directory and permission to send more notifications and requests to users.
Prior to getting his App Broker application certified, Francis Pelland saw minimal weekly growth in users -- about 4 percent.
After App Broker got the stamp of approval, its installations have grown about 1,200 percent, and increase about 30 percent every week, Pelland said in a phone interview.
"Having a better position in the application directory helps a lot," said Pelland, a law and computer science student at Carleton University in Ontario, Canada, who has built several Facebook applications.
Pelland, who paid the $175 student fee, plans to resubmit App Broker when its certification period ends. "I definitely see a benefit. I've gotten more than my money's worth from it," said Pelland, whose application generates revenue from advertising, sponsorships and virtual goods.
Hong Kong's NK Toys and Entertainment has had a similar experience with its Fantasyworld Hero application, according to chief designer Louis Ng and artist and conceptual designer Charles Ng. After getting certified, Fantasyworld Hero'd installations jumped 40-fold.
"Given the amount of exposure we are getting, we will most likely do that [verification] again. And there is also an advertising credit that comes with [the program] by Facebook which we do think is a good deal," they said via e-mail.
It will be interesting to see how the Application Verification program changes, if at all, once Facebook implements stricter rules over how third-party applications access end user data. The new rules, prompted by a Canadian government investigation, will take about a year to implement because they will require changes to the application platform's API.
For now, when asked for an update on the Application Verification program, a Facebook spokeswoman sent this statement via e-mail: "The verification concept helps ensure the success of the broader developer ecosystem while illustrating to users that verified applications embody Facebook's guiding principles around providing a powerful and secure user experience and meaningful interaction."
Participating developers have ideas for how to improve the program. Pelland suggests allowing verified applications an even higher number of end-user notifications.
David Stillwell, who had his My Personality application verified, concurs. "Facebook needs to increase the benefits for joining because there are still applications that prefer to flaunt the platform rules as this gives them more benefits than joining the program," he said via e-mail.
Louis Ng and Charles Ng found the submission instructions clear, as well as the communications from Facebook, but the process could have been done at a brisker pace. "[A] drawback would be the time it takes them to reply to e-mails," they said.
Stillwell had a similar experience, although Facebook didn't request any changes to his application. "The communication was fair, although it was the beginning of the verification program and so there were some big gaps between messages where it wasn't clear what the next step was and when it was going to happen," Stillwell said.
After My Personality got verified, it benefitted from increased visibility in the application directory and from more willingness by users to pay for premium personality tests, he said. However, Facebook could do a better job of promoting the Application Verification program and explaining it to end users.
"I'm not sure that the vast majority of users are really aware that there is a Facebook verified application system as we haven't seen much evidence of Facebook promoting it," said Stillwell, who is pursuing a PhD in the U.K. and thus paid the reduced student fee.
Pelland shares a similar view, saying that while the program has proven effective, Facebook has kept it "very hushed," a situation he hopes will change.
Because it isn't widely known and understood among end users, the program right now is better suited for applications that have gained a certain level of popularity and can use the Facebook badge to obtain further traction. "Getting verification will not make the difference between a successful and unsuccessful application," Stillwell said.
As it is structured now, the program is a better fit for developers who want to promote one or a few applications, as it can be financially onerous for developers with many applications, according to Louis Ng and Charles Ng. "If a developer has a lot of applications then it makes no sense to apply for them all. But for us who are very focused on creating a single cool game, that exposure gives us a great deal of benefits," they said.