f8 – Stay N Alive

Facebook Quietly Launches Ads API for ALL Developers

Some amazing things have been announced at Facebook’s annual developer conference, F8, going on yesterday and today in San Francisco. From new apps for Facebook Messenger, to a platform for Internet of Things, to one of the most amazing explanations of the value of virtual reality I’ve ever seen, Facebook has by far made up for last year’s F8, which I suggested was a bit uninteresting. But one thing went unannounced that I think bears merit, and I discovered it within their “Developers Garage” here at the conference as I was talking to people working for Facebook at the various booths. That was the launch of Facebook’s advertising API to all developers, making the entire API public.

Up until “recently”, as Facebook reps weren’t able to give me a specific date that it went live, you used to have to apply to access Facebook’s ads API through a very hard-to-find form on the Facebook Developers website. Now, in a very prominent location, Facebook has released a “Marketing APIs” section of their developers website, allowing any developer that needs it to access Insights data, custom audience creation and access, access to a business’s pages and assets, along with the ability to create and access ads on behalf of a business. According to Facebook they released them recently but there is no blog post or official announcement about the release.

To get started with the Facebook Ads API, developers just need to create an app and under “Advanced” within the app settings, set an ad account ID to associate ads with. Then, developers have access to a slew of API calls they can use to retrieve an ad account’s ads, create and modify custom audiences, and even create and target new ads to new audiences in very custom ways. I often use this for my clients to integrate and custom target ads to very specific users that are visiting certain parts of their websites or mobile apps.

Typically, while a developer may be able to code an app like this, they likely won’t know how beneficial this feature can be to a business, which may be why Facebook did not make a big announcement about the feature. Knowing these things can be automated is something critical for marketing organizations to get to know and understand, and one reason I always suggest the more technical elements of marketing orgs visit conferences like F8. These tools Facebook just launched are extremely valuable and can be the key to, with a small update, allowing orgs to have that extra edge against their competitors.

So if you haven’t tried it out yet hop on over to Facebook’s Marketing APIs in their developer documentation and start learning what you can do. To me, this is one of the most valuable and most major announcements to come out of the Facebook F8 developer conference and it wasn’t even announced from the stage. I’m kind of okay with being one of the “few” that knows about it though!

No Known Solutions In Sight for Copyright Issues or Monetization for Facebook Video

At Facebook’s now annual F8 developers conference, 2 issues seemed to be on the mind of developers and content creators in the audience of their “What’s New With Facebook Video” session: copyright infringement and in-video monetization. But when asked about it, Facebook seemed mute.

Among the features launched at Facebook F8 this year was the ability, just like Youtube, to embed native video from Facebook on websites and other 3rd party products (see video below). This launch allows further distribution of video, and improves the capabilities of video shared on websites to be shared beyond previously available through solutions such as Youtube video.

While big news, Facebook still failed to address what was on the top of everyone’s minds: how to address the rampant stealing of video on Youtube subsequently being shared on Facebook by those who don’t own the video. When prompted by one questioner, Facebook responded saying they had not come up with a solution, and that such a solution would take a long time to come up with. “We’re learning”, Fidji Simo, Facebook’s Product Management Director over video said, suggesting these types of products take time to develop.

I pressed further, specifically citing Google’s Content Manager solution that allows copyright owners to upload their copyrighted content to Youtube in order to notify Youtube of the copyrighted material, so as others upload the same content it can be automatically flagged and removed. The response I got back was pretty much the same, citing the complexities and difficulties of such a solution. There seemed to be no plans, at least that they were willing to admit yet.

While I admit I don’t understand the complexities of such a system (in developer speak, you would just create a “hash” of the video, and for every video uploaded match the content of those videos against the hashes of other copyrighted material in the Facebook database), it was comforting to know Facebook is at least understanding of the problem. It was completely clear to me they had heard these issues before, and were actively trying to figure out a solution surrounding the problem.

As for monetization, Facebook seemed unclear on whether in-stream video ads were the future for Facebook video. They said they were trying to reach out to other content publishers to work on business solutions for the video, but nothing had materialized yet. Not quite the information I was looking for, but it’s comforting to know that they know the problems.

While I understand the complexities of video, copyright, and monetization, I am perplexed at the lack of communication on the problems surrounding these issues. It doesn’t seem to me like Facebook is doing their best to reach out to the influencers and friends of mine I’m aware of in the Youtube community (all with millions of subscribers) that could be providing feedback around the platform. At a minimum, Facebook could be calming the waters a bit.

In the meantime, we’ll continue to see videos like these produced, unless Facebook can either provide a solution or start better communications with Youtubers affected by these issues:

Ancestry.com Buys Top Facebook App We’re Related

In the early days of Facebook’s developer platform (2007, to be exact), as apps were going from 0 to 2 or more million users in just a matter of days, family history apps were among the first to rise to the top. The link between family connections and friend connections seemed like a natural fit for apps that were built to connect one another. It appears that, according to Ancestry Insider, one of the pioneer Facebook apps in this industry, We’re Related, was just acquired by Ancestry.com for an undisclosed amount (both are Utah-based companies where I am located).

We’re Related quickly went to the top of the Facebook app store as number 1 where it sat as the top-used app by users worldwide on the Facebook Platform. The app, founded by Paul Allen (ironically the founder of Ancestry.com), intended to show how Facebook friends were related through their family history. The app allowed users to enter their family information, and would then notify family members that they had been added to one’s family tree, asking them to confirm the addition. This “peer-pressure” amongst family members no-doubt led to the app’s popularity on Facebook.

The app was soon expanded to the site, FamilyLink.com which built a standalone site around connecting families through their social networking connections. Shortly after Facebook started imposing restrictions on how app developers could advertise, the app started losing money and FamilyLink had to pivot to more of a site-based model.

According to Ancestry Insider, FamilyLink was sold recently to MyHeritage.com, but the assets of the We’re Related Facebook app were retained by Paul Allen. It would appear that some time before July, Paul Allen sold the final assets of the We’re Related app to Ancestry.com for somewhere under $11.7 million. According to the SEC Form 10-Q filed by Ancestry.com, “In March 2012, the company completed two acquisitions for a total of approximately $11.7 million in cash consideration. The company acquired the DNA assets of Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation, a non-profit organization with a diverse collection of DNA samples and corresponding genealogical information. The company also acquired We’re Related, LLC, which operates the We’re Related Facebook application.” It is unclear how much of that $11.7 million went to We’re Related.

Ancestry Insider also notes that Ancestry.com also has started their own Facebook app, which operates somewhat similar to the We’re Related app on top of Ancestry.com data. It’s unclear as to whether Ancestry.com has used the assets of We’re Related to create their own app.

This acquisition marks the end of a golden era of Facebook app development. This was an era where apps could integrate with every element of the Facebook.com experience, advertise as they wanted, and see incredible results as a result. The playing field has since shifted to a much cleaner approach by Facebook of focusing on the News Feed, while encouraging developers to integrate Facebook Platform outside of the Facebook environment. These apps were truly the pioneers in this era, and deserve all the credit they can get.

Disclosure: We’re Related was one of my first clients when I went out on my own as an entrepreneur. I helped them with some initial wireframes of the app, and later on with some help in publicity for their app. This app is near and dear to my heart.

One Thing is Clear About F8 – the Focus of a Facebook Conference is on Relationships

I just finished my 3rd consecutive Facebook F8 developers conference. While I missed the first one (I followed it remotely though), the Facebook conferences I have attended thus far just get better year to year. This year was no exception. I noticed something this year though, reflecting on years past and other, non-Facebook conferences I’ve attended in the past. There’s one thing Facebook (and a lot of that credit, according to many Facebook employees I talk to, is due to Mark Zuckerberg himself) really, really understands is relationships. That understanding bleeds into everything they do, and that includes their conferences.

Looking at other, non-Facebook conferences I’ve attended, they try to get attendees excited by giving them freebies – a free laptop, a free tablet, or even a free phone or similar device. Attendees flock there out of hopes they’ll get to learn the latest things about the products they’re passionate about, but many also have in the back of their minds that, on their company’s money, they’re going to get something free out of the experience.

While the people attending may be focusing on meeting new people and getting to know their industry, the conferences themselves weren’t really designed around building relationships or networking. There are often closed room session, with single speakers in a very intimate setting designed around learning. The focus of most conferences is just that – learning. At Facebook’s F8 it’s different though – the entire experience is designed around networking. They’re designed around relationships.

From the sessions, all in open rooms that you can walk through from room to room, to the main floor, which stands centered amongst all the sessions so people can easily pass by other developers and Facebook engineers, everything is designed so you have to pass by other people in order to participate. Booths are set up around the conference where you can swipe a card that is tied to your Facebook account, and on Facebook it checks you in, or uploads a photo of you, and other things, showing you the other of your Facebook friends that are also there with you. Even the DJ booth is programmed so that when you swipe that card the songs are played by your Facebook likes and friends’ Facebook likes, making even the music experience a more social experience.

It’s not uncommon to see even Mark Zuckerberg roaming the halls, talking to anyone he has time for, and most of the executive team also make themselves available. In past years Mark has even brought his family to the events with him – yes, it’s a family event too!

My entire experience ended with a party, usually with a well known artist of some sort, but right in the main hall where everyone can participate (last night was an exception for me, as I was invited to another party, but Facebook’s still went on without me!). Delicious food is served by the wonderful chefs at Facebook, and participants are encouraged to celebrate with each other, and the entire Facebook staff and their families all come to join in on the fun with the participants. It is the epitome of a social event!

Having worked with the Facebook team over the years and having the privilege of intimate knowledge of how they work, there is one thing you quickly realize – Facebook gets relationships in a way no one else can understand. It’s a different culture and way of thinking than I’ve ever experienced. The best way to learn of this is by attending their annual F8 conference, where the same culture extends to the developers participating. If you haven’t been able to attend previously, maybe you can attend in the future. If not, at least be sure to check out the recordings of all the keynotes and sessions from yesterday’s conference and at least you can catch a glimpse. It truly is a unique experience I haven’t experienced anywhere else!

Disclosure: Facebook comp’d me a press pass for this since I’m an author of Facebook developer books and blog about Facebook. I’d say the same thing if I paid for the conference though. It would be worth every penny.

Here’s What I Can Predict With Absolute Certainty

Including this year, I’ve been to 3 Facebook F8 Developer Conferences now (I missed the first year, but followed it remotely). There is a repeat pattern for each, that I want to just get out of the way before this conference starts, and predict, with absolute certainty, will happen. I thought this warranted its own post:

Bloggers will complain. Users will revolt. People will leave the service.

This happens with every single major Facebook update, and it has happened after every F8 conference (maybe not the first one). It is so predictable now that I just smile and laugh.

The fact is, no matter how many people say they are quitting, no matter how many people say they hate the new changes, people still stay. They always come back. They’re always more vocal leaving than they are coming back, too.

The truth is, as long as Facebook continues to innovate, and as long as they continue to adapt and listen to their users, yet innovate as they do so (meaning they are the first to an idea, not necessarily their users), they’ll always lure people back into their service. I guarantee they’ll make mistakes. I guarantee users will hate them for that. However, Facebook always adapts when it’s clear they made a mistake, and the users always come back. They’ll continue to grow, and in more and more areas – I can guarantee that.

You’re already starting to see this – “Facebook’s another Yahoo”. “Facebook is dying”. “The sky is falling”. This happens again and again, year after year. It’s almost predictable, and it will keep happening. You’ll keep coming back though. You’ll keep finding new and better ways to use the service, and you’ll continue to realize this is one of the best services for your closest friends and family to connect.

BTW, you may be asking, “but what about Google+?” I really don’t think they’re direct competitors. Certain people will use Google+ – many people will, in fact (I wouldn’t have written a book on it if that weren’t the case). However, different types of people will use Facebook. The two will compete, and that’s good. I don’t think either service is “dying” though. We’ll all find better ways to use the best tools available.

In fact, for any service, when people are yelling you’re dying, when you’re still growing, that’s a good thing! It shows you’ve touched a few nerves and you’ve got people’s attention.

You’ve Heard the Rumors. Here are a Few Predictions That "Just Make Sense" For Facebook’s F8

Facebook’s developer conference, F8, is coming up this Thursday, having developers like myself drooling at what Facebook might be launching. Last year I was pretty close in my prediction (I had the code right – just not exactly what the code did – this was all the launch of Facebook’s Social Plugins), having got some clues in their open source Javascript SDK that were launched in the code before they were released to developers. The thing is, this year I’m stumped. I can’t see a single thing in Facebook’s code (with the exception of some sort of “Questions” XFBML tag, but I don’t think that’s new – perhaps in testing?). None of their employees are giving any hints whatsoever of what’s launching, and overall, there have been no obvious clues as to what might launch. The truth is, I don’t even know if I’d blog about it this time even if I did find anything – there is something to the element of Surprise and letting others experience that at F8 as well. I’d like to respect that. I figured I’d put down my thoughts though, and rather than trying to predict anything, I’d share what makes sense to me, out of pure speculation, but with a little bit of backup as to why I think this way.

To start, let’s talk about what the other tech blogs are sharing – it should be noted that even these are rumor, and should not be given any source of credibility until some sort of proof is shown of their pending launch.

  • The HTML5 App Market and Platform (Spartan). This was covered, and scooped thoroughly by Techcrunch’s MG Siegler. I think he’s pretty close to where they’re going with this. I’ve said frequently that Facebook would do well if they had some sort of control of the client, and launching such a platform makes sense. I predict they’ll likely release some sort of app marketplace, via a native app that controls the installation of Facebook-enabled HTML5 apps. They’ll also probably provide native apps for photo sharing and other native-only features of phones so that HTML5 apps can easily tie in and integrate with those features, under Facebook’s control. This is also why they’ll launch an iPad app – it gives them more control.

    BTW, I predicted this 3 years ago.

  • Some sort of Music solution. This too has been covered. I haven’t seen any hint of it by anyone, but it is well known that Facebook employees have loved the social experience of musical apps like Spotify. Not only that, but it would make a lot of sense for Facebook to control the music library of your phone or portable device. There’s just something really social about music, and wanting to share your favorite music with your close friends and family. The more Facebook controls this, the better experience they can provide. I bet this launches as a mobile solution of some sort. It could potentially also launch as a browser plugin (which I’ll explain below).
  • “Read, Watch, Listen.” AllThingsD covered this well. Tonight was the first I heard about it. It fits with the music sharing idea I mentioned above. It also fits with the expanded, 5,000 character limit status update posts that are anticipated to launch tomorrow (see the comments in that link), according to Blake Ross, Facebook’s Director of Product. It seems Facebook is getting ready to launch better ways to curate content – they definitely seem to be trying to get Robert Scoble’s attention with this (he seems to know more than he’s telling). Robert loves curation – he’ll be all over this. I think it will also be really good for Facebook.

    One question I do have though is could Facebook also be partnering with, or starting their own movie and media streaming and sharing service with this? They seem to have been experimenting already some with Livestream at Facebook.com/live.

    The other option (which could be combined with the above) is Facebook could be ready to launch a true Google+ Hangouts competitor using their Skype relationship, allowing people to better share and collaborate and “watch” their favorite videos with groups of their closest friends and family. I get the feeling this Skype relationship is only the beginning.

  • New, revamped profiles. This will be interesting. Mashable reports that some anonymous sources are reporting that a new profile focused more on what media users are listening to or watching will be launched, the intent being to bring more attention to the profile of each user, and encourage others to spend more time on each user’s profile. Kinda reminds me of Myspace – I hope not.

    There are a few things that do make sense here though. With the new emphasis on subscriptions, I anticipate they will likely turn on some sort of capability for individuals to create custom tabs like they do Facebook Pages. Facebook will also likely need to turn on analytics (they’re “Insights” product) to give full reasoning to have people with dual personal Facebook Pages and Profiles have a reason to switch.

    Also, being able to go to my profile to see what music I’m listening to is also an interesting concept – not sure why they wouldn’t use the news feed for that, though. Instead, perhaps they’ll use some sort of concept more similar to Google+’s Hangouts or turntable.fm where you can actually listen together to the music, comment on what you’re listening to, and give others the ability to control your own music flow. The same could apply to movies as well.

With those out of the way, let me share a few things that just make sense to me, with the recent launch of subscriptions, and the direction Facebook seems to be going. I should be careful to note that I haven’t gotten any official confirmation from any Facebook employee on these. They are pure speculation on my part – they just make sense though. I predict some or all of these could be launched, and if they aren’t launched at F8 we will see them at some point in Facebook’s future:
  • A browser plugin platform, to complement the HTML5 Mobile platform. I’ve lauded the web with no login button for awhile now. The concept being you can go from site to site, and have each site automatically identify you based on information supplied by your browser. What if it was a Facebook extension or plugin in your browser that actually did this? What if Facebook provided a platform for this, so that other apps could easily tie in and augment the experience, based on permission from the user.

    It just occurred to me today that it’s been a little eerie that there have been no hints of anything new in the code in Facebook’s website or their SDK. True, Facebook could just have a stronger security model than they used to (likely), but it could also be that some of their employees are also using a browser extension to test sharing, and other features. With this, it would be much harder to detect what’s happening, and you wouldn’t see anything in the code of the website itself.

    Also interesting is the activity I’m seeing by Facebook’s Director of Product, Blake Ross, recently. He seems to have had a major role in the launch of many of these recent products. For those that don’t know, Blake Ross was one of the founders of the Mozilla Firefox project (yes, the browser).

    I should also be clear that anything I ever see from an employee friend I never reveal on this blog – to me a friend is a friend, and I would never abuse that relationship. I can certainly write about what I’m not seeing though! (and of note, I have not seen anything this year, oddly!)

  • Better, and more accessible search options. With Facebook’s subscriptions recently launching, along with a better lists user experience and easier ability to target posts publicly, or to specific lists, it makes sense that more and more people on Facebook are going to begin posting updates publicly. This is what Facebook’s been trying to make happen for quite awhile now. I think finally they did it.

    As a result, it makes sense that Facebook would release a better search user experience, to search these public updates. This is what currently makes Twitter powerful. And with the “Read, Watch, Listen” theme, it would make sense that Facebook wants you to be able to discover content easier. Will we be able to search public updates? Will there be trending terms and other stats (similar to their Lexicon that used to be available). I talked about this potential a few years ago.

  • The ability to “subscribe” to Lists. Several people, including Facebook’s Blake Ross (again, see the comments in that link), have hinted that Facebook is getting ready to launch better ways for family and friends to only get the content they want to see from you. This is the problem I’m running into right now with the new subscriptions. I post a lot more with subscriptions, but half of my posts my family and friends can’t even understand! The majority of my subscribers can though. So how do I set it so that my close family and friends don’t see those public updates?

    A solution I think makes a lot of sense is the idea of creating Facebook lists that others can subscribe to. Right now, when someone subscribes to my public updates, I get a notification saying, “so and so has subscribed to your public updates”. What if that notification was also programmed to say “so and so has subscribed to your technology updates”? The wording seems to make that possible.

    I think it would make a lot of sense if I could create lists targeted towards things I’m interested in. I could create a “technology” list. I could create a “facebook” list. Or, I could take one of my existing lists. Then I could have the option to make that list “subscribable”. Doing so would then, instead of only allowing me to decide who gets updates targeted towards that list, allow anyone who wants to be on that list also receive updates I want to intend towards people on that list. It would be a lot like an email list where anyone can subscribe to get updates, a common feature of many mailing list providers.

  • The death of Notes. As I said above, Blake Ross also confirmed tonight that tomorrow, a new change will be launching allowing Facebook posts to have a maximum limit of 5,000 characters, and potentially even more after that. The current limit is 500 characters. This, in essence, removes the need for the Notes app on Facebook. I think it makes a lot of sense that this app will go away. There’s just not much need any more for the app if I can do the same thing in my status updates.
  • The reintroduction of ActivityStreams, in a distributed consumption (and publishing) model. Chris Messina gave an excellent presentation on the vision for this model. Google+ just launched support (read-only right now) for ActivityStreams, in a limited format. It would make a lot of sense for Facebook to do the same. They’re already rumored to be launching Twitter integration and the ability to post updates to Twitter. What if they also end up having a content consumption model, using ActivityStreams’ standard to be able to import content that has a different source than the current site the content is being shared on. This, in essence, could allow for a distributed subscription model.

    Also of note, Chris Messina worked on the SpreadFirefox project at Mozilla with Blake Ross

  • The launch of OpenID Connect support. OpenID Connect just released their spec. Both Facebook and Google have been very public supporters in the development of this spec. Facebook has always been one of the first on board to the new OAuth specs for developers, with their launch of OAuth 2.0 support last year. It would make a whole lot of sense for Facebook to launch their first implementation of OpenID Connect during this conference.
  • Revamped Facebook Pages. It’s already been rumored that profiles are getting a revamped look and feel. What about Facebook Pages? Up until now they’ve been pretty neglected. I think it makes a lot of sense that Facebook Pages would get a better interface. More moderation capabilities. Easier management. Better promotional opportunities to gain more likes. I think this is very likely this conference.
  • An actual Phone based on their Open Hardware initiative? Facebook has been very big on their open hardware support, with the launch of their new server hosting facility near Seattle. In fact, David Recordon, Facebook’s Senior Open Programs manager, was quoted recently by Jolie O’Dell at Venturebeat saying that Open Hardware was the future over open source software.

    What if one of their focuses currently is on an open hardware phone? There’s nothing like that out there right now. Google’s focus with Android has been on open source, not Open Hardware.  Facebook could really take the mobile game to the next level with this approach.

Of course, all these predictions are just speculation, but you have to admit they all make a lot of sense. Whether we see them at F8, or in the months following, I bet we see a lot of these come to fruition. The innovation in this space is just mind boggling (and I’m sure overwhelming for many users!). While I’m sure competitors such as Google+ are a motivating factor, Facebook truly seems to be thinking outside the box in their efforts going forward. As long as they keep doing so, we’ll continue to see this playing field move forward at a pace we’ve never seen before. Let’s just hope the users can keep up!
In the meantime, let me know in the comments if you’re coming to F8 – I’d love to meet you! Of course, as always, you can subscribe to me any time on Facebook to get more updates like this.

"Anything You Say Can and Will Be Used Against You"

I’ve said numerous times that when you put something on the web, you should always assume that data is public, for the world to see. Up until now, Facebook was the exception – Facebook enabled privacy controls, enabling users to, while assuming their data could be public, add a layer of protection and assurance to that data since it would be stored in a silo’d environment. All that changed, in an incredibly significant way yesterday. At Facebook’s F8 developers conference, they announced a new way of integrating with the Facebook network, which would basically incorporate websites that choose to do so to become an instant part of the Facebook network. Now, not only will your Facebook profile follow you as you visit Facebook.com, but your Facebook profile will follow you from website to website, following you and bringing your friends with you throughout the entire internet. Facebook essentially just became the new Internet, which means my rules above now apply to Facebook as much as any website out there.

What you need to watch out for

Before it is assumed that I’m spreading a bunch of FUD, I want to be clear that the same privacy rules apply to the websites you visit as do on Facebook.com.  You might have noticed a new message as you log in asking you to opt out if you don’t want your information shared with these websites.  If you really have a concern you will want to look at these settings and change them.  However, even if you keep the information on, there are still requirements that will force website owners to get you to log in to Facebook before they obtain information such as your friend data or other more private information.  There is still some control.

What you do need to watch out for however is that what you put into Facebook.com could very well become a part of any participating website out there.  The same rules for the web now apply to Facebook.  If you don’t want others to know about it, don’t share it on Facebook!  I believe Facebook is anticipating that the world is becoming a much more open and forgiving place though – personally, I agree.  I call this the “small community effect”.  Basically, in a small community everyone knows who you are.  You all know each others strengths and weaknesses, and you’re able to help each other out because of that.  You’re able to talk, and everyone hears.  If you want out, just leave the community!

Here’s an example: I have many friends on Facebook that work for Facebook, Inc. and Twitter, Inc.  I do see private information all the time that isn’t meant for public consumption.  However, the minute I share that information to those it was not intended for I break that trust relationship with my friends, and all they need to do is unfriend me.  Now I no longer have a trusted relationship and my ties (and friendships) are broken.  When you have a small community there is a responsibility to trust one another, and it’s a much stronger bond than an anonymous internet.

Why This is a Good Thing

The internet just became a whole lot less anonymous than before.  It sounds scary, but it really isn’t.  When you are forced to identify yourself (and these identities will become more and more real as technology surrounding identity advances), you are forced to be real.  You won’t do things you would normally do when people didin’t know your name.  In a less anonymous internet it’s the anonymous people you have to worry about, and they are the ones that get forced to wear the Scarlet Letters when they are discovered.

Here’s the real advantage: now, rather than searching and hoping to find the right answers to your questions, answers will be delivered to you without you even having to ask.  You’ll be visiting your favorite brand’s website, and you’ll be able to see exactly what your friends that use that brand also like.  You’ll be pointed to other important and interesting things.  You could be watching TV and see what show all your friends are watching – often that can be much more interesting than having to just randomly pick what you aren’t quite sure would be good.  Not only that, but you have the opportunity to chat, communicate, and collaborate about these things that you like.

Facebook is encouraging us to be Social!  I think it’s time we all break out of our shells and take these real life relationships around the world and do something with them.  I’m okay with giving up a little information for that cause.  In the end social networking is about building real life relationships.  What a better way than to do that all over the web, wherever you go?

I’m going to spend some time over the next few days going over the details of Facebook’s new OpenGraph, what it is, and how it works (in a way you can understand).  I’d also like to compare it to Google’s SocialGraph API, a very similar API to what Facebook is doing.  I’d like to cover where the prior arts are, where Facebook could have done better (as in distribution and a less centralized architecture), and why I think they went the way they did.

In the end I think it’s okay to be at peace with this.  Everyone I’ve spoken to at Facebook intends to be good with this information.  Their entire purpose is to respect your privacy, while making the web a whole lot less anonymous and a whole lot more social.  So get on and be social!  Get on and share some things.  That’s a good thing!

Facebook Kills the Storage Limit

Today at Facebook’s F8 developer’s conference Mark Zuckerberg announced that Facebook would be adapting their policy surrounding the length of time developers can store data taken from the Facebook API on their own servers.  Very soon, the infamous, “store for only 24 hours” limit will no longer be, as developers will be able to store data indefinitely.

Previously, developers were only allowed to store data taken from the Facebook API for 24 hours at a time.  The only data that could be stored longer than this were specific user, photo, event, and other similar IDs, from which developers were required to make API calls back to Facebook to receive data about those objects.  This was a common complaint amongst developers (including myself), causing bandwidth costs and much more effort on the part of a developer (and lack ability to be innovative with that data).

It’s great to hear Facebook opening up on this front.  Stay tuned and I’ll be updating this blog as more news unfolds.

More "Insights" on the Facebook Open Graph API Surface

With Facebook’s F8 Developer’s conference right around the corner, there is a flurry of activity happening as the Facebook team rushes to prepare for many launches at the Conference.  While I know more than I am saying, there is some evidence in plain view, open for all that we know for sure will be launched at the conference which you should prepare for.  Specifically, I’ve already shared information about Facebook’s XFBML tag to enable any website on the web to be “liked” and shared amongst a user’s friends.  While not currently functional, this information was made clear in Facebook’s Open Source Javascript Client libraries available here on their GitHub open source repository (and available to all).  There is much more those libraries reveal though (some which have been there for months), hinting at what could very well become a “Facebook-less” connection to the entire web, making it much less necessary to go back and forth between the Facebook.com website to interact with Facebook on a day-to-day basis.  Here is what we know:

There will be a tag that website administrators and developers can stick onto any website that enables a live stream of just that website’s activity on Facebook.  According to the check in on GitHub, the tag accepts the following parameters:

- site (string): mandatory, site url (ie : facebook.com)
- activities (int): number of activities to display.
- width
- height
- header (boolean): indicates if the header should be displayed or not.

Assuming I understand it right, if you use the sample from the GitHub check in, code like the following would display an activity stream for all posts to Facebook from the CNN.com website:


It’s quite unclear what these are going to do exactly.  One has to expect it is something like the Meebo bar, which puts a bar at the bottom of any Connect (or Open Graph API) enabled website.  The two seem to work together, and, from the code, the fb:connectBar tag seems to prompt each visitor with text that says,

“Hi {firstName}. {siteName} is using to personalize your experience.”

There is an option to click to learn more.  My guess is that is just a way for website owners to spread more word about Facebook Connect to their visitors.  I’m assuming uses as part of the bar website owners place at the bottom (or elsewhere) of their website.  Right now it seems the way to implement is to just place “” or “” in your website somewhere after calling the Facebook Javascript libraries.

Insights for Websites

Perhaps the most intriguing part of the and tags is that they both make a call to a new API method, FB.impression.  The interesting call in the Open Source Client libraries source code is:

FB.provide('Insights',{impression:function(e,a){var b=FB.guid(),g="//ah8.facebook.com/impression.php/"+b+"/",c=new Image(1,1),f=[];if(!e.api_key&&FB._apikey)e.api_key=FB._apikey;for(var d in e)f.push(encodeURIComponent(d)+'='+encodeURIComponent(e[d]));g+='?'+f.join('&');if(a)c.onload=a;c.src=g;}});

In the summary for the check in on Github, they state, “Add new method – FB.impression – for pixel-based impression tracking.”  So, based on that, it would seem that whether released at F8 or not, there may be an Insights component to this OpenGraph API released.  Insights is the product used by Fan Page owners on Facebook to track activity on Facebook Pages.  Ideally, by enabling the above tags, it could enable website owners to gain added social graph data in addition to impressions, visits, and page views for each user that visits their website, including demographics, ages, nationalities, and even names of users.  That would be a very powerful statistics engine, unrivaled by the likes of Google Analytics and other solutions!

While none of the above work outside the Facebook, Inc. Firewall, it is exciting to know they could be coming.  My expectation is that on or around F8, Facebook should turn on the backend code that powers these, and then, the OpenGraph API will be available for all.  While this stuff is all very powerful, I can’t help but wonder if this is the tip of the iceberg.  None of this encompasses open standards of any kind, yet David Recordon and the Open Standards team at Facebook seem to still be preaching “open”.  I’m assuming there will be something very open and distributed, unreliant on Facebook alone, about all of this coming up this F8.  I can’t wait to see what happens.  Keep watching here, as there is even more out there in the open surrounding the Facebook API that I think is pretty cool.

If you’re coming to F8 on Wednesday, come by and say hi to me!

Speculation: Expect Something BIG in the Area of Real-Time at F8

I don’t do speculative posts like this too often, except around Facebook’s F8 developer events for the most part.  The last one I predicted was that Facebook would announce a Mobile Platform at F8 – the announcement did occur along with Facebook Connect.  The first F8 was the announcement of the Facebook API, which revolutionized Social Development and has left players like Google scrambling to play catch up since.  Now, 2 years since the last F8, the next F8 has been announced, and we are all wondering what the next big announcement will be.  If it is to be in line with the last 2, and, considering they waited 2 years to have another one, they have to be announcing something game-changing.  I predict it directly involves some of the FriendFeed team and it’s directly related to real-time.

First of all, let me preface this with the fact that I am not receiving this data from any inside contacts at Facebook, nor have I been told anything the rest of the world doesn’t already know.  This is pure speculation – I hope it’s taken as such.  I am also certainly not a psychic.  I think if you look at some of the hints though, you can see the potential for something big, perhaps FriendFeed 3.0-like (remember, FriendFeed 2.0 was the advent of their real-time stream you see now) about to happen at Facebook.  Here are my reasons for thinking such:

What is Paul Buchheit Working on?

Paul Buchheit, one of the founders of FriendFeed, creator of Gmail, and now working at Facebook after FriendFeed was acquired, hasn’t yet made it evident exactly what he’s working on.  We know Bret Taylor, also a founder, is now Director of Product for Facebook, and working heavily with the Facebook APIs and the new Roadmap Facebook has laid out for developers.  We know Kevin Fox, pretty much the man behind all the design of FriendFeed, has been working on the new Games and Apps dashboard that Facebook just launched (that you can see on the left-hand side of Facebook).

But what is Paul Buchheit working on?  He recently commented stating he is definitely not working on Facebook’s new e-mail product that they have been rumored to be working on to replace their current inbox structure.  I’m not sure anyone has specifically stated exactly whether he’s working on the Facebook developer platform now or not.  He seems to be doing something big, and he’s certainly been studying Google Buzz recently if you look over his FriendFeed stream lately.

Float Like a Butterfly, Sting Like a Bee

Then there’s that “Butterfly” post.  Paul Buchheit specifically stated when Robert Scoble, Steve Gillmor, and others were all pressuring Facebook to make a statement on what they were going to do with FriendFeed that “the team is working on a couple of longer-term projects that will help bring FriendFeedy goodness to the larger world.”  He then continued, “Transformation is not the end. Consider this the chrysalis stage — if all goes well, a beautiful butterfly will emerge”.

The mystery in all this is that Facebook has not yet released anything even remotely similar to what Paul described yet.  Paul’s a really smart guy.  He’s not just going to work on something mediocre for Facebook – whatever it is, it has to be game changing.  I really believe that whatever it is will blow our minds away when it happens.  The FriendFeed team doesn’t just innovate.  They revolutionize.  I don’t believe they would still be at Facebook if they didn’t have that opportunity.

Facebook’s Needs

Then there’s the lack of any real-time APIs or architecture at Facebook.  I have to click on the page to have it refresh.  Frankly, I think that fits their current audience of 400 million+ “average Joes” well.  It doesn’t tap into the news-seeking, data-mining, and publishing audiences very well though.  That’s what Twitter does well.  It’s what FriendFeed and Buzz also do well.  All of these come with real-time APIs and real-time searches (or “track”).

Facebook needs a real-time interface for developers still.  It needs search.  It needs search to be real-time.  It needs a public view into all of that, supported by the powerful privacy controls Facebook already has in place.  Facebook has already built out the building blocks to launch this with their recent emphasis on encouraging users to open up their posts more and at the same time enabling them to have granularity in who sees those posts.  The next natural step is to finally open up those public posts to developers, and provide a real-time interface to it all.  With a 400 million user audience, that would be game-changing in the realm of real-time data.  We ain’t seen nothin’ yet!

The Lack of any Really Big Known Announcements at F8

Lastly, we know everything else Facebook could announce at F8.  Facebook has already started rolling out credits to developers, so a payment system wouldn’t be much of a “game changer” per se.  I’m sure they’ll talk a lot about it at the conference though.  Facebook has already started rolling out its Ads API to developers.  They’ve already announced the desire to open up websites as virtual 3rd-party “Pages” on the web.  They’ve let us know just about everything in their roadmap, except the fate of FriendFeed.

Doesn’t this seem strange to you that Facebook and the FriendFeed team have been so mute on this in general for almost a year now?  What’s going on behind the scenes?  Even when asking the FriendFeed team about plans to integrate better into Facebook they have remained mute.  How cool would it be if, while everyone is ranting and raving about Google Buzz and calling FriendFeed dead, the FriendFeed team along with the incredible talent that Facebook adds to the mix have all been working on FriendFeed 3.0 behind the scenes?  What if Facebook caught wind Google was working on Buzz and bought FriendFeed in response to that rumor?  Will the “Butterfly” emerge at F8?  The chrysalis stage takes patience – I’m not giving up on FriendFeed yet.