March 2010 – Stay N Alive

Facebook’s Like Button for the Whole Internet – Here’s How it Works

Techcrunch today talked about a new “Like Button for the Whole Internet” which Facebook looks to be launching some time soon, and has been tested amongst several developers as they’ve been told.  What they didn’t mention is that you can access the code for this right now in the code to the latest open source Javascript SDK.  While it does not currently work in its current form, it is open for the entire public to see, and has been there for the last few months (along with a few other hints I’ll let you find).

Assuming the source of the new SDK (currently in alpha) remains the same, the XFBML button can be placed on any website on the internet, and it increments the number of likes when a user clicks on it.  By default it increments the likes for the current page, but there appears to also be the ability to specify a “permalink” attribute, along with a URL to another page.  It’s unclear if that will be changeable in the XFBML tag or not.  Also, a required “node_type” attribute that defaults to “page” can be set.  Lastly, an optional “page_url” can be set.  The XFBML tag loads content from /widgets/like.php (attributes of the XFBML tag get passed as attributes in the URL).  That URL appears to be disabled at the moment.

So it looks like the XFBML tag will look something like the following, and it will be part of Facebook’s widgets architecture:

Also of interest, Facebook has an entire tag library devoted to the new tag, like.js.  You can probably gain a little more info from that.  I can’t wait for them to turn on like.php so we can play with this.

My book, FBML Essentials, may just get a lot more interesting as Facebook prepares for their “OpenGraph API”, enabling any website to become its own Facebook Fan Page across the internet.  This is one of many tags I’ve seen that are very interesting – see if you can look through the code and find anything else that looks interesting like this.  I love being a developer. 🙂

Recurly Recurls Pricing – New Entrepreneurs Not Happy

Up until now I’ve been preparing a raving review about how much I love the recurring payment service, Recurly.  Previously, at simply a fraction of the price of each payment on the service, it was very simple for any entrepreneur to get set up with the service and have an out-of-the-box solution for recurring payments on any website.  Just today Recurly sent out a note to its beta customers stating they were changing that model, and rather than charging per transaction on either a percentage of revenue or the total number of subscribers (the lesser of the two), they would be switching to a flat-rate pricing model.  The pricing would increase based on the services you used rather than the number of transactions.  As a new entrepreneur, I’m horribly disappointed by this new plan.

Just today, Recurly’s CEO sent out a lengthy e-mail explaining the terms.  In the e-mail, Isaac Hall, CEO of Recurly, blamed the new pricing on their talks with entrepreneurs, claiming what entrepreneurs would “likely be paying”, and implying that for most of those they talked to this new pricing structure was more beneficial.  Unfortunately, I was not one of those he talked to, and evidently, nor was Damon Cortesi, another entrepreneur/developer and founder of UntitledStartup (where I learned about Recurly) who responded when I shared my disappointment on Twitter, “I agree re: the monthly fees. That’s a huge hit.”

“Our pricing is simple–we don’t get paid unless you get paid.” – the old slogan

The old pricing was simple – so simple they bragged, “Our pricing is simple–we don’t get paid until you get paid”.  It offered the option of a tiered pricing level where each tier represented a number of users with accounts on your system.  If you had more accounts, you paid more.  There was also a percentage model, where for each purchase a percentage of the pricing would be charged to the transaction – they claimed they would choose the best pricing model based on your number of transactions.  Unfortunately they must not have been getting paid enough.  The new plan is just 3 tiers – $49, $99, and $199/month.  The lower tier being a basic signup solution with no way to determine when users’ cards were declined and no way to whitelabel or do one-time transactions.  The middle layer adds API support and white-label support.  The final layer adds push notifications (for when cards are declined, subscriptions are canceled, etc), and one-time transaction support.

The old pricing model

For a budding entrepreneur trying to bootstrap his company with no guarantees as to whether that company will make any money at all, even $49/month is an expensive choice.  For someone like me who can’t guarantee the user will actually come back to the site after signing up through Recurly, or can’t guarantee the user’s card will be successful the second or third month in, I need the push notification support.  Currently even Paypal offers this on a per-transaction basis, and they provide one-time transaction support (which we’re using on SocialToo).  White label is also critical for maximum fulfillment (something that was next on my list for SocialToo).

However, at $199/month, I just can’t guarantee my sales will always be enough to cover that, pay for hosting (already near $1k/mo), cover maintenance, design, and other costs of supporting the site.  It’s simply too expensive for a site still in the early stages trying to build enough revenue to make something significant.  Considering most businesses are bootstrapped in this manner and not paid for through VC money, this may be something Recurly wants to reconsider.

So, considering, I am now forced to look back at my options and I will probably be considering implementing my own solution now through a service like Paypal or perhaps something native through or similar just like I’m doing on the one-time payments.  I really hope Recurly reconsiders on this.  Their previous plan made it so easy to set up a recurring payment plan it was the obvious choice.  I am stuck looking for more.

You can read the e-mail from the CEO of Recurly here.

Changing the World Quite Literally Through Social Media

The rumor is out – I thought I’d make it official.  This week I have started as the new Social Media Architect for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  In summary, I am in charge of the architecture and integration of Social Technologies for the Church.  I will be in charge of finding ways that make sense to integrate technologies such as Facebook Connect, the Twitter API, @Anywhere, OpenSocial, Google Buzz, Google Wave, FOAF, Google’s Social Graph APIs, OpenID, and just about any other Social technology you can think of in to the Church’s web properties.  This is quite a task!

The LDS Church (also called “the Mormons” by others) has some of the most visited websites on the internet.  I’ve talked about it before. As of now,, the Church’s site for members of the Church, ranks at number 2,460 in Alexa rankings.  The Church has the largest database of genealogical information in the world.  The Church has one of the largest philanthropic organizations in the world, contributing significantly to the efforts in Haiti, Chile, and many other causes (you can donate over on the right).  The Church’s Relief Society is the largest non-profit womens organizations in the world, contributing to the welfare, support, and moral guidance and relief of women throughout the world.  The Church has a global audience, speaking just about every language you can think of, and the Church’s technology has to support that audience.

That’s why this is such an incredible opportunity.  Never in my life have I had the chance to support such a large, global audience in a way that could impact so many.  I see the use of Social Media enabling the Church to reach into areas and touch people in ways it was never able to do before.  I see Social Media enabling the Church to help more people, strengthen, and make the world a better place without boundary.  I will get to not only use Facebook and Twitter to help others benefit society, but on a global scale I’ll get to use Orkut, Hi5, Bebo, and other global networks, and find ways to deeply integrate these technologies into the work the Church is doing, on a global scale and to a mass audience.

Will this affect my business, SocialToo?  I anticipate not.  I am taking a leap of faith here for something I feel has an even greater effect to change the world, but my intention is to continue running SocialToo part-time (at least).  As it needs more attention we will see where things go at that point.  I don’t anticipate anything changing on SocialToo, and I also expect some really amazing new features, new partnerships, and more to appear, even while I am fulfilling my position at the LDS Church.

“I don’t like X about the LDS Church” — I don’t intend to respond to many of these comments, and if they’re persistent I may remove or block them – IMO they are irrelevant to the position I hold.  I am responsible solely for the Social Media-related technologies of the Church, nothing else.  Any post here I make in representation of that position will be technology focused, not Church Policy focused.  I’ve made it clear my intentions are to make the world a better place with this position.  It doesn’t matter what your personal beliefs or motivations are – I think we’re all in this purpose together, and IMO, that’s what matters most.  I hope you can support me in this.  I hope to work for better standards in the realm of Genealogy.  I hope to work for better, more friendly International standards, and better ways people can communicate globally in different languages.  I hope what I do can change the poverty levels, and the welfare of the world through technology.  That is my purpose.

There is no better job where I can “do no evil” better than in what I’m doing now.  This is something where I feel I can truly make a change for the better.  Will it help my faith, my religion? You bet!  What I’m most excited though is the effect this position will have on the world.  My faith and my religion are entirely centered around that, and my hope is that I have an effect on this more than anything else.

Have any questions? Please don’t hesitate to ask in the comments and elsewhere.  I’m very happy, as always, to answer questions and discuss these matters and my beliefs in the Church especially.  You can definitely expect much more from me on some of the related technologies we’re working on as I am able.  I’m excited to where this leads!  There is something very powerful about Social Media technologies and the potential they have to change the world.

As always, the content of this post and any other post on this blog are my own opinions, not the reflections of my employer, nor an official statement on my faith or religion.  Any comment or post outside official LDS Channels are my own opinion and views.

Google Re-Enables Adsense on RSS Feeds in Buzz

Some time in the last hour or two it appears that the Google Buzz team has re-enabled AdSense ads in RSS Feeds in Google Buzz.  Recently I wrote about this, criticizing the service for stripping out ads a blog author was including and importing into Google Buzz.  This included both RSS feeds directly imported into Google Buzz and those shared via Google Reader.  I argued this was a violation of the authors’ copyrights and their intended method of content distribution.

Google responded quickly, saying they had confirmed the problem, and expected to have it resolved “within the week”.  Apparently they meant a month, but I’m glad it’s fixed.  As both a book author and blogger, I always hate to see my content being modified in ways I had not agreed to.  It is a strict violation of authors’ copyright, and not to mention “evil” in a way.  It’s nice to see Google recognizes that and has fixed the problem.

If all goes well, if you visit my Google Buzz profile, you should see an ad now, right below this text.  Are you seeing the same?

Facebook Kills More Spammy Apps With New Policy Changes

A common technique used by developers to promote their apps very quickly on Facebook has been to tag all of a user’s friends in a photo.  I’ve complained about this before.  If you visit my Facebook Profile and look at the “photos of Jesse” section you’ll notice a few of these.  They’re usually a single image with a bunch of peoples’ photos, saying something like “people who have visited your profile”, or “your top friends”.  Often they’ll add a link in the comments back to the app to get more installs.  Just now, Facebook announced they’re trying to put an end to this practice with the introduction of new policies to their platform.

The most significant change involves this method of spamming a user’s friends through the photo tagging feature in the API.  Previously, any developer could take a list of a user’s friends without the user’s permission and tag them all on behalf of that user, to get their attention. As of today that’s no more – now developers must explicitely ask the user’s permission for each friend individually before tagging them in a photo on their behalf.  This significantly reduces the potential spamminess of this API call, and I’m sure many people will see much less of this photo spam in their inbox.

The second big change Facebook is enforcing involves the number of spammy wall posts you may be receiving on your Facebook wall.  Right now if you visit my Facebook wall you’ll notice several apps have posted there.  Most of these apps have not been given my permission to do so, but, because I’m friends with the individual that used the app, I’m subject to it sharing to my wall.  Much of this was due to the ability for developers to present a list of multiple friends at the same time that a user could select from and post to their wall.  The app would say something like, “post to 10 friends’ walls and get 10 points towards your garden”, the user would be encouraged to spam their friends, and more spam would appear on the walls of those users.

Now, Facebook is requiring developers to only invite one friend at a time.  No longer will users be able to select from a list of multiple at a time to spam their friends.  Also, users must explicitly have approved the app to publish that entry.  I expect much less spam will result.

Of course, all of this is dependent on Facebook’s enforcement of the measures, but Facebook is known to be pretty good at this.  Even as a developer, I welcome the new rules and the potential of a cleaner Facebook.  Let’s hope this improves the overall environment.

Geeky: PHP Client Library That Works With the New Facebook Javascript SDK

Occasionally I write more geeky posts that I don’t expect all my readers to understand.  I’m going to start prefacing those with “Geeky:” so you can know to ignore them in the future.  This is obviously one of those, so if the title doesn’t make sense to you, I don’t blame you for skipping over it all.

I have started playing recently with Facebook’s new Open Source Javascript Client Libraries.  It has actually been quite fun to work with, in that they separate all the code out in a manner that’s easy to access, read, and understand how it works.  Also, if I ever choose, I can host the Javascript files themselves on my own servers and reduce that potential failure point were Facebook’s servers to go down. (granted, you’re still relying on the Facebook API for them to work fully)  I can also contribute to the source in the event I feel something might work better (via my own Github fork).

One problem I’ve come across with the new libraries is that they have simplified the Javascript session cookies so that rather than 5 or 6 separate cookies all getting set and needing to be parsed on the client in order to identify the authorized user, only one cookie is set, and can be parsed using simple URI string parsing functions. This is actually a bonus in that there is less work to be done to authorize the user.  However, it means any old server-side clients that parse those cookies the old way will also need to be modified.  If you don’t modify your server-side client library to recognize the new cookies, your libraries will not be able to authenticate or authorize the user properly.

I needed a solution for the server side that worked well with the new format.  The specific code I’m writing is in PHP so it made sense to go with Facebook’s default PHP libraries, and I created a version of facebook.php that worked with the new Javascript SDK.  To set it up is simple – just take this file, unzip it, and replace the facebook.php in your default PHP Facebook client library install with the one you just unzipped.

Unfortunately, the file isn’t backwards compatible, so you will need to choose between either the new Open Source Javascript SDK or the old Facebook Javascript Client libraries.  This is because if you use the new Javascript SDK when you log the user out it only deletes the new format of session cookie.  Your PHP Client Libraries will set the old format if you don’t replace them with the version above.

There may still be a way to make all this backwards compatible, but for my purposes I haven’t had need to look into it.  Also, I’ve only tested this for my own use-cases, so there may be bugs.  Please send me a patch if you find any bugs and I’ll update my own version of the file.  As soon as it’s possible hopefully we can get this into the Facebook version as well.  I’m going to also update the Github Wiki for the new Javascript SDK so others can benefit.

Let me know if anything needs to be updated.  You can download the zipped facebook.php file here.

Facebook Goes After Their Trademark in Popular Domains

It’s common practice, and perhaps necessary for large companies to protect their Trademark.  I’ve written before about Google going after an incorrect spelling of their own Trademark, on, because it resembles one of their products.  Twitter is known to also go after domains with not only “Twitter” in the name, but “Tweet” and even “Twit” (even though that specific trademark is owned by Leo Laporte).  It has long been known that Facebook Apps are not to have the name “Facebook” in their names, but it would appear that Facebook is starting to go after domain names too.  Just recently, they have asked such major sites as Mari Smith’s, to change their name in defense of their own Trademark.

In a post on Mari’s Facebook Page, Mari stated, “I took down my blog this week. Long story. But basically Facebook are on a mission to reclaim all domains containing “facebook” – soooo, a wee word of warning in case you own any!!”  Mari, perhaps one of the most followed Facebook experts on the site, who also was named by FastCompany Magazine as the “Pied Piper of Facebook”, also ran one of the most intuitive and most followed blogs on how to manage a Facebook Page, build a fan base, and grow an audience using the site.  She had an incredible following of Brand managers and very large companies wanting to improve their brand presence.  She is now moving her content over to her own domain, for future reference.

The request by Facebook begs the question whether other popular sites, such as and (both of which I have contributed articles for in the past), have also received such Cease-and-Desist orders.  Mari states she was told these sites have received “special permission” from Facebook, which makes me wonder how this permission is obtained.  Even the domain for mine and my co-author Jason Alba’s website (which now redirects to our Fan Page) for our book is at risk:  Or what about even the name of our book, “I’m on Facebook–Now What???” – is that at risk as well?

I think it’s safe to say that if anyone owns a domain with the name, “Facebook” in the title they are at risk to be taken down by Facebook.  This is something to be aware of when creating any sort of website – even your domain is not safe from Trademark infringement in the future.  Are you aware of any other sites receiving these cease-and-desist orders?

Facebook Starting to Test Fan Page Notifications

My wife just got an interesting e-mail notification from Facebook about a Facebook Page she is a fan of.  The notification was a summary of the activity on the Page for the day.  The text of the e-mail goes as such:

“Here is this week’s summary for the Facebook Page: **************

0 Fans this week (7 total Fans)
0 Wall Posts, Comments, and Likes this week (0 last week)
2 Visits to your page this week (1 Visits last week)

Update your Fans:*********
Visit your Insights Page:*********
Get more Fans with Facebook Ads:***************

The Facebook Team”

Granted, the Page she was a fan of is not one that gets a lot of activity, it leads me to wonder if Facebook is beginning to enable e-mail notifications for Facebook Page activity on the site.  I wonder if there were comments or Wall posts if those would have been included as well.

Facebook has had amazing notification features for normal user Profiles up to this point, but for Fan Pages, the notifications have been lacking.  Users have been forced to resort to third party solutions such as NutshellMail (of which I am a user) to deliver notifications for such Pages to their e-mail inbox.  On my own Fan Pages for myself and my Facebook books, this has been the biggest complaint amongst Fan Page administrators, that there was no way to be notified off the site when new activity occured on their Fan Page.

It appears this very soon won’t be the problem any more.  Usually when Facebook tests features like this, it means a solution is just around the corner.  Now the big question is, how can I get this enabled on my account?

Is anyone else seeing this on their Facebook Account?  I’m interested to hear what you’re seeing.

Twitter Launches Facebook Connect Competitor, @Anywhere

I’ve long talked about the MVC model of the Building Block web.  Data Repositories like Amazon Simple Storage, Facebook Data Store, Google Data, and others comprise the Model of this new platform.  APIs like the Twitter API, the Facebook server-side APIs, or other REST-type APIs compose the Controllers of this web.  Then you have the View – something pretty much only Facebook and OpenSocial/Google Friend Connect have covered thus far.  The View enables developers to easily integrate and access code from a user’s Client, the web browser.  Today Twitter added their entry to that game, @Anywhere.

@Anywhere strives to provide a solution for a huge weakness in the Twitter API Platform thus far.  It provides an entire Javascript, Client-side platform for developers and website owners to integrate Twitter easily and simply right on top of their website, no server-side code involved.  This is the missing link Twitter has needed to have a truly competitive solution against Facebook’s Connect platform.

Facebook Connect relies on Javascript to provide an immersive experience into the Facebook environment right on top of any website owner’s site.  With a few lines of Javascript, and an HTML-like tag language called XFBML, website owners can pretty much copy and paste pieces of code in place and immediately have access to comments, become a fan boxes, post to their stream, and even more if you know a little Javascript as well.  It’s unclear if Twitter will be releasing an XFBML competitor (I’d love to help Twitter test if this becomes the case – I wrote the book on Facebook’s FBML), but Twitter is clearly going up against Facebook Connect to provide similar type tools, and I think it’s a very smart move.

I mentioned earlier I was excited about the entry of Josh Elman as product manager at Twitter.  I’m unclear if he had anything to do with this, but you can clearly see the Facebook influence in Twitter’s new API.  With not only Josh, but several others from the Facebook team now working at Twitter, you can bet they’ve compared and contrasted how they could obtain some of the millions of Facebook developers out there.  Making it as easy as possible is the smartest way to do this, and Twitter has already signed on several very big players in the Facebook Connect space, Huffington Post and Yahoo, to be launch partners in this effort.

In addition to those, the most significant partner that I think should not be ignored is Amazon.  Amazon, IMO, is the holy grail in Social E-Commerce, and despite not having a Facebook Connect solution, they seem willing to integrate Twitter into their environment.  Why they are choosing Twitter over Facebook is beyond me – maybe they have a Facebook deal in the works as well?

I’m very excited about this new announcement.  Soon, it will be easy for any developer to very seamlessly, in a single, well-understood language (Javascript), integrate Facebook and Twitter all on a single website with little effort.  As a developer, I’m drooling a bit over this.  I can’t wait to start playing with it.