Some of Facebook’s big hitters were in London yesterday to explain the thinking behind the latest Facebook features and how developers can exploit them to drive extra traffic to their apps.
The day began with a keynote from Ethan Beard, Facebook's director of partnerships, who began by flattering London developers as "the most innovative and active in Europe" and talking up the power of Facebook’s social approach.
“We’ve moved from wisdom of crowds to the wisdom of people,” he evangelised. “We call this social by design and it’s fundamental to how to build on the social web.”
The opportunities social offers are enormous, he argued, pointing to the huge numbers of people playing games on Facebook – despite the fact that the games themselves, with their "plain graphics" were "not that compelling".
"The important thing is that you play it with your friends,” he explained. "These aren't games with friends sprinkled on top; it's more about social interactions with gaming on top."
Facebook offers all apps the opportunity to spread socially as people share updates about how they’re using it with their friends, Beard stressed.
But the company had reached a point where the model wasn’t worked as it had hoped, said Beard. It turned out people weren’t sharing as much as expected, because they didn't want to "spam their friends" with hundreds of updates in their News Feed about how what they’d been doing on Farmville.
In response, Facebook is currently rolling out the Ticker, which takes multiple app-related updates out of the News Feed and boxes them off in a way that’s less distracting and obtrusive.
At the same time it’s introducing another new feature, the Timeline, which allows users to create an organised scrapbook of their experiences throughout their lives.
To help developers take full advantage of these new features, Beard explained, Facebook is rolling out a Open Graph API for developers to insert into their code, enabling updates to be posted simultaneously on all three platforms: Ticker, Timeline and News Feed. "The goal is to make it really easy for users to share and really drive social discovery," he said.
To illustrate the opportunities the API offers, Beard showcased the new Nike+ GPS Facebook app for runners, which documents the runs you go on. Rather than just post the information blindly to your Facebook page, it can curate it for you in a number of ways. For instance, users can ask the app to compile and post lists such as "Top places I’ve run" and "Longest runs I’ve done" for friends to read. Beard also showcased rdio, an app which allows users to share the music they’re listening to via Facebook in numerous ways.
In conclusion, Beard claimed that the Open Graph API gives developers the opportunity to build "an entirely new class of app," in which "the act of consumption itself drives sharing". He offered developers three tips: "Put people at the centre; build on the Open Graph platform; and think about the actions users are taking that they would want to represent the story of their lives."