A little over a year ago, social-networking site Facebook opened its doors to non-students and, since then, businesspeople and the computer-savvy have flocked to it. A big reason for the site's allure is not just the number of people who use it, but also the thousands of applications on the site - mini applets that use the power of social networking for everything imaginable.
These applications act as extensions to the basic Facebook post-a-profile/read-a-profile functionality. Interested in something serious, such as collaborating on documents, using your friends' collective intelligence to discover useful blogs, or finding freelance developers to help with an IT project? You'll find applications for that. How about the not-so-serious, such as playing Texas Hold 'Em poker or perusing the collected wisdom of Homer Simpson? There's something for you as well.
Where do all these apps come from? Third-party developers think they see gold in Facebook, and they're flocking to write free applications for the site, which is a development platform in its own right. At last count, there were more than 7,000 Facebook applications, and no end in sight to new ones.
It can be tough and time-consuming to weed out the pointless from the useful and the winners from the losers. We're here to help. We've listed our favourite Facebook applications in a variety of categories, from the useful to the sublime to the ridiculous.
Check them out, and if you've got the time, head to the Facebook application directory for many more. And let us know your favourite Facebook apps by leaving a comment at the bottom of this article.
Apps for techies
Facebook isn't exactly IT-friendly - you'll find countless applications for giving people virtual 'pokes' or rating their hotness factor, but not many that warm the hearts of IT pros. However, there are a few worth trying. At this point, they're not particularly popular, but given Facebook's growing presence in the business world, that may soon change.
Are you a pro in Python, MySQL, Ruby and PHP? Then let the world (and your boss and potential employers) know about it. Load this app, pick all the languages in the list in which you can program, and choose your expertise in each (from zero to five stars). It's great for impressing not only your boss, but potential employers as well.
If you're inside Facebook and don't want to have to launch a separate FTP client, try this FTP application. It offers exactly what you'd expect in an FTP client - copying, moving, deleting, downloading files and directories, and more.
It's a bit of a stretch to actually call this an application. Instead, it's a directory of developers and the skills they provide, so it provides an easy way to find someone if you need development work. And if you're advertising your own services, it's a way to try and get work.
At the moment, the pickings are slim, but they may increase in the future.
Apps that can kill your career
Facebook was created for students, not professionals, so it should be no surprise that plenty of applications may not enhance your professional career.
If you care at all about getting ahead at work - or just keeping your job - avoid these applications, lest your boss and co-workers see them on your profile.
Your boss wants a highly motivated, self-starting team player with lots of energy and careful attention to your customers' needs. He doesn't want to see anticorporate sayings on your Facebook profile such as "Apathy: If we don't take care of the customer, maybe they'll stop bugging us." So if you want to keep your job, stay away from this one.
I can't say that I've actually figured out what this application does. Based on its name alone, though, you should avoid it at all costs, unless your chosen career involves lots of solo night time walking on city streets.
Install this app, and your friends get to rate you on trustworthiness, influence, intelligence, happiness and coolness - and they rate you anonymously. Do you really want your boss and co-workers to know whether people think you're truly trustworthy and intelligent? I thought not; pass this one by.
The first thing you can do with this application, according to its description, is to display your 'Drinking Status' to 'Let all your buddies know just how ready you are to get drinking'. Unless you and your boss spend plenty of up-close-and-personal time sharing Jell-o shots, avoid this app.
Not satisfied with ruining your career by telling the world how ready you are for a drink? Then add gambling to the mix as well. This poker game is an addictive way to waste time at your computer and gamble yourself out of your job. You won't be alone - this popular app has more than 177,000 active users a day.
Apps for succeeding in business
Want to get ahead in your career fast, but don't want to put in the requisite time slogging in the trenches? Facebook is here to help. Check out these applications that should help you move up the corporate ladder in no time.
Worried that your boss will wander by when you're busy playing drinking or gambling games on Facebook? Install this application, then click the Boss Button whenever your boss looms. Whatever is on your screen will be replaced with Google search results for a term such as 'workflow improvement' or any business buzzword of your choosing. Your boss will be pleased that you always have your nose to the grindstone.
The LinkedIn social network site was built from the ground up for business, not play, so you might have a number of contacts there. But trying to keep up with LinkedIn as well as Facebook can be time-consuming. That's where this app comes in. It connects you directly to your LinkedIn contact list, so you can access it straight from Facebook, or import LinkedIn contacts into Facebook.
Got a nagging problem that you can't solve, or a question you need answered? Install this app, ask a question, and then it will be sent to all of your Facebook friends who use the application. You'll be surprised at how generous they'll be with their time - and how often your question gets very useful answers.
Best productivity apps
A case can be made that Facebook is one of the greatest productivity-sappers of all time - but in fact, there are also a handful of applications that can help you in your work. Here are some of the best. Although some of these apps exist outside of Facebook, integrating them all into your Facebook profile means they're collected in one place - useful if you spend a lot of time on Facebook already.
Wikis, the underlying technology that run Wikipedia, can be exceedingly useful tools for sharing information. Corporations can use them to capture the shared knowledge inside a company; individuals can use them for anything from planning trips with friends to creating family websites.
Creating a wiki isn't particularly easy, but Wiki mono lets you create them within Facebook without knowing a stitch of HTML or coding, then lets you share them with other Facebook users.
Zoho is one of the better online productivity suites, complete with word processor, spreadsheet, presentation software and database. This Facebook app taps into your existing Zoho account, or you can set up a new account from inside the app.
It links to all of your Zoho documents and also lets you cooperatively work on the documents with other Facebook users. As with your normal Zoho account, you can choose which documents to keep private and which to share.
Here's another online productivity suite, similar to Zoho, with the added benefit of a whopping 1GB of online storage for your documents. It works much like Zoho, so you can choose which you like better.
Be aware, though, that unlike the Zoho app, the ThinkFree Docs app will make all of the documents you upload available to anyone on Facebook; there's no way to earmark certain documents as private.
Want to make sure you have access to important files wherever you are? This Facebook app lets you upload files to a Box.net online storage account, so you can get at them wherever you are.
In essence, it's just a front end to the free Box.net service, so you can just as easily get access to the files by heading to www.box.net. But if you live in Facebook, it's useful.
Best blogging and news apps
Facebook excels at using the collective intelligence of your friends to help you find useful and entertaining blogs, news and information. Here are applications that get it done.
If you've got friends who blog (and who doesn't?) you'll find this application quite useful. It displays your friends' blog entries, in addition to other blogs based on your interests, right on your profile page.
How does it work? Anybody who signs up for the app can provide the URL(s) for one or more blogs that they write and want their friends to see. Whenever they add an entry to one of these blogs, Blog Friends shows it on their friends' Facebook pages. In addition, the app shows you blog entries from friends of your friends.
This clever Facebook blog reader learns from your likes and dislikes and then finds blogs and news based on them. You can then share those blogs with your friends who use the app, and have them share them with you.
Over time, as it learns more about what you like, LeapTag fine-tunes what you see, so the selections become more relevant and targeted. Also, you can see the blogs and news that your friends are interested in as a way to widen your interests.
If you've got a blog to which you want to give more exposure, here's a great way to do it. Flog Blog takes a blog you're already writing and displays it on your Facebook profile. It's a blog reader that allows anyone to read your blog posts inside Facebook on your profile page, and it includes permalinks to the blog as a way to boost traffic.
Read the top stories from Google News in various categories, or by keywords that you choose, from right within Facebook. Naturally, you can also share news stories with friends as well.
Fans of Comedy Central's The Daily Show will appreciate this app, which displays daily clips from the show and lets you share them with friends.
The list of Facebook applications goes on, with many covering the same ground. Here are a few final highlights and lowlights.
The accumulated wisdom of...
Want to display the wisdom of the ages on your Facebook page or get advice from some of the world's best businesspeople? No matter your interest, it's easy to find apps that will display quotes from a variety of sources on your Facebook profile. Check out the following; there are plenty of others worth trying as well.
Too much information
Facebook users, to put it mildly, are a self-involved bunch. Because of that, there are many applications along the lines of, “But enough about me. Tell me what you think about me." Here's a sample.
- More About Me: If you want the world to know whether you prefer Lipton Ice Tea to Nestea, what your favourite chocolate bar is, and other vital pieces of personal information, here's how to share that scintillating information.
- I've Got Kids! If you've bored the pants off of everyone you know by telling them about your kids, here's your chance to bore your virtual friends as well.
- My Computer: Tell the world how many computers you own, along with their specs, including operating system, CPU, RAM, graphics processor, and more.
- My Gadgets: The same as My Computer, but about gadgets, although it also lets you recommend gadgets to others and get their recommendations.
Most pretentious Facebook apps
Among a certain type of Facebook user, there's an I'm-smarter-and-cooler-than-you-are ethos at play. Often, it's subtle, although sometimes it's as restrained as a sledgehammer. Following are a few Facebook applications with a high potential for pretentiousness.
- Cities I've Visited: even if you've been no further from home than Staten Island or Revere Beach, convince the world you're an adventurous jet-setter by lying about all the places you've been.
- Books iRead: similarly, even habitual John Grisham readers can use this application to convince everyone they're world-class intellectuals by listing books they've never read.