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Facebook store to roll out first paid apps

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Cross-platform store will take user ratings into account when deciding whether to list apps

Facebook is getting into the app store game, announcing an initiative called App Center which it claims will help developers get their social web and mobile applications discovered by more people.

The App Center will spotlight free and paid applications that use Facebook’s social graph. It will be a part of the Facebook website, but also the company’s iOS and Android apps.

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“For the over 900 million people that use Facebook, the App Center will become the new, central place to find great apps like Draw Something, Pinterest, Spotify, Battle Pirates, Viddy, and Bubble Witch Saga,” explains Facebook in a blog post aimed at developers.

Apps will be sorted by category, including games, communications, lifestyle, music, news, photos & videos, sports, travel & local, TV & movies and utilities. Each app gets its own page on the store, which will become the first thing Facebook users see when searching for it – but only if it’s deemed good enough.

“Success through the App Center is tied to the quality of an app. We use a variety of signals, such as user ratings and engagement, to determine if an app is listed in the App Center,” explains Facebook.

“Well-designed apps that people enjoy will be prominently displayed. Apps that receive poor user ratings or don’t meet the quality guidelines won’t be listed.”

Those quality guidelines are available to read already.

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They include stipulations that apps must “have an easy-to-use interface, clear content, value to users, and no significant bugs”, while clearly distinguishing ads and content “without excessive advertising”, setting “clear expectations about what user activity it shares on Facebook, and when”, and not mimicking Facebook’s own user interface elements.

To help developers avoid this fate, Facebook says it will be supplying them with analytics on how users are rating their apps, as part of its Insights toolset.

Within Facebook’s mobile apps, people will be able to browse apps and then install them from Apple’s App Store or Google’s Play store if they’re native, or go straight to them if they are mobile web apps.

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The App Center will also see Facebook moving beyond its historic focus on free apps that make money from advertising and/or in-app purchases.

“To support more types of apps on Facebook.com, we will give developers the option to offer paid apps,” explains the company. “This is a simple-to-implement payment feature that lets people pay a flat fee to use an app on Facebook.com.” Developers can request to sign up to a beta programme for this.

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What’s interesting about App Center is the change of emphasis that it represents for Facebook. The social network’s app discovery has traditionally been focused on a mixture of virality – those messages that get posted in people’s news streams – and advertising.

In the past, this could have been seen as a sign that apps don’t necessarily need an app store to be discovered. Developers will be keen to take advantage of the change, but they will continue to keep a close eye on changes Facebook makes to its viral and advertising features.

© Guardian News and Media 2012

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