Editor's Note: Facebook recently announced significant changes to its platform that impacts small-business marketing efforts. In response, Practical eCommerce will publish "How Facebook Changes Impact Ecommerce Merchants," a three-part series aimed at addressing each of these changes. The series will run in the following order:
Facebook recently announced that it is moving from its proprietary Facebook Markup Language (FBML, a version of HTML) to iframes for custom page creation. Facebook has set March 11 as the deadline, after which no new tabs can be created using FBML.
Many users depend on a Facebook app called staticFBML to create custom tabs, such as "Welcome" or "Products" that you see on many Fan pages. staticFBML enabled those with less technical proficiency in HMTL and CSS to build such tabs. The change from FBML to iframes means Fan page owners must learn how to develop tabs using iframes, or rely on third-party tab-creation service providers.
Use of iFrames
It is not the purpose of this article to explain iframe technology. However, here are some of the main points.
"iFrame" stands for "Inline Frame." It allows a web page hosted on one server to be embedded (or "framed") into a web page of another. For Facebook purposes, this means a custom tab will not reside on Facebook's servers. It will be hosted elsewhere, then embedded into a tab using iframes. This will presumably result in a major reduction of the load placed on Facebook's servers and, likely, was one of the reasons for the decision.
The use of iframes is not a new technology. It was introduced by Microsoft Internet Explorer as early as 1997, according to the iframes entry in Wikipedia.
iFrame technology offers a number of advantages over FBML. Because pages will no longer be served from the network's own servers, the constraints imposed by Facebook's platform will go away. This means greater flexibility in terms of the types of scripting languages that can be used and deeper integration between the merchant's website and Facebook page.
iFrame technology also presents challenges. Some custom-tab functions that relied on FBML will be more difficult to implement. For example, the ability for a page owner to require a visitor to Like the page to enjoy its full benefits — a technique called "fangating" — will now be more difficult to create, and, for some users, will require a developer's assistance. In addition, the page owner will have to provide space on his or her own server for custom tabbed pages.
This change, along with the recent redesign of Facebook pages, may mean a change in the terminology used to refer to tabs. Formerly, navigation was done with a row of tabs across the top of the page. Now, navigation is located on the left of the page, under the profile banner. Since customization will now be done using Facebook's developer app technology, the term "tabs" seems less appropriate.