Facebook begins testing ads for third-party applications

Up until today, Facebook has been content to let third-party developers make money however they wanted to, without offering its own services to help them do so directly. Instead, it’s just been making money from developers by running ads alongside some application pages. But today, the company says it is beginning to test out ads that run within apps. In some sense, this move competes with third-party ad networks that already run ads within Facebook applications, including Social Media, RockYou and even Google.

At the same time, Facebook has launched information pages on its developer site, featuring common application business models, a list of third-party ad networks, and articles about application monetization (including, I see, an article on virtual goods that may be familar to VentureBeat readers). The goal doesn’t seem to be for Facebook to encroach upon rivals, but rather to help developers become more successful.

More about Facebook’s own ads, from a company blog post this afternoon:

Starting today you may notice a few applications occasionally serving Facebook Ads directly in their canvas pages as a part of a small alpha test. We will use the results of this test and other tests that we do to determine the best ways we can help you monetize. For this initial test we picked a few developers that had a variety of different user bases and application types to give us the kind of data we need. We will examine the results to decide whether to open up the program to more developers in the future.

In the past, Facebook has said that it will compete with third-party applications on a level playing field. It has a mixed track record in this department — though when it has slanted the playing field in its favor, its rationale has basically been that it wants to build a better service for users. For those skeptical of Facebook’s intentions, the test here will be to see if it gives its own ads any sort of special treatment versus ads run by third-party networks.

Social game developer Zynga is testing out Facebook ads on its Heroes vs. Villains, Special Forces and Word Twist apps. The independently developed family-connecting app We’re Related is also running similar tests.

Still, many Facebook app developers I’ve spoken with over the years have told me that they want Facebook to get more involved in helping them make money. So this could be a win-win move for Facebook and its developer community.