Following months of speculation, Facebook announced "a new class" of applications today at its F8 developer conference in San Francisco. The apps allow Facebook to make music, movies, and other media a more integral part of the social network. They're not exactly a Facebook Music service, but they're pretty close, and in some ways more ambitious.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the apps allow a new set of actions for Facebook users. So instead of just hitting the "like" button, users can tell friends that they're reading an article, watching a movie, or listening to a song. And that, in turn, opens up new opportunities for interaction—users could see, on Facebook, that their friends are listening to a certain song on Spotify, or a certain TV episode on Hulu, and they could watch or listen along without leaving the Facebook site.
Facebook has been building up to these changes with a redesigned newsfeed, which has already created some controversy. The new changes will probably lead to more. Asked what he would say to users who feel Facebook doesn't listen to their concerns, Zuckerberg said, "I think we actually do." He noted that some of the new features have been in testing for several months, and that the additions will continue to be tweaked based on user feedback.
"At the same time, I think the world is moving quickly, and we want to be innovative," he said.
There's a long list of music services that have built apps using Facebook's new capabilities, including MOG, Rdio, and Slacker. Zuckerberg said all of them understand that "the key to making the music business work isn't trying to block you from listening to songs you haven't bought." Instead, these apps give people opportunities to find more music, which in turn makes them want to buy more music. Zuckerberg reserved special praise for startup Spotify, which he said has done a "particularly good job" of building a social music service. In fact, Spotify CEO Daniel Ek and Netflix CEO Reed Hastings (who is on Facebook's board of directors) were the only two people from outside Facebook who were invited to speak onstage.
The new apps aren't limited to media. Many of the other examples that Zuckerberg offered onstage involved lifestyle apps; sharing exercise routines via Nike+ or foods via Foodspotting, for example. And Facebook can (hopefully) share more activity without overwhelming users by using that new newsfeed. The main feed highlights the most interesting activity from a user's friends, with a small ticker on the upper right showing "lightweight" activity as it happens, including items from most of the new apps.
After the main event, Gokul Rajaram, the product director for Facebook's ads, told Adweek that the new apps will allow Facebook to "evolve" its advertising program. As Facebook users start sharing more of their activities, advertisers can turn those actions into "sponsored stories." So instead of just creating an ad showing a user that his or her friend likes the band Coldplay, a record label could create an ad that would include the specific Coldplay song the friend had been listening to on Spotify. Advertisers could also see an influx of new, more specific data with which to target their ads.
In an email, Forrester analyst Sean Corcoran said Facebook's developments "not only help trump rival Google, but will open up new opportunities for marketers with new kinds of customer experiences, long-term engagement, advertising, and customer intelligence."
In addition to the new apps, Facebook also announced a feature called Timeline, which allows users to share more of their personal history—even, possibly, their entire life—on the site. Zuckerberg said that the original Facebook profile represented the "first five minutes" of your conversation with someone you've never met, while more recent versions have expanded that to the first 15 minutes. With the Timeline, Zuckerberg said, the profile is able to go even deeper.