As Facebook’s f8 Developer Conference Approaches, a Recap of Its Rumored Launches

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By Eric Eldon Comment

Facebook’s first f8 developer conference in two years is happening next Wednesday, and it will feature big announcements from the company. Here’s our look at the latest hints and rumors about what might be launched.

Open Graph API: Facebook revealed its plans for this platform API last fall, during its big “roadmap” presentation when it layed out its platform plans to developers. Before we discuss it further, here’s the official description:

The Open Graph API will allow any page on the Web to have all the features of a Facebook Page – users will be able to become a Fan of the page, it will show up on that user’s profile and in search results, and that page will be able to publish stories to the stream of its fans….

Once implemented, developers can include a number of Facebook Widgets, like the Fan Box, or leverage any API, which enable the transformation of any Web page so it functions similar to a Facebook Page. For example, AwesomeTees might decide that strategically they would like to locate their brand identity at www.awesometees.com. AwesomeTees will install the Fan Box widget, which will allow any Facebook user to “Become a Fan” of AwesomeTees, thereby establishing an official connection to AwesomeTees. The user will then have AwesomeTees listed in their list of connections on their profile as Pages are represented today. Additionally, any content that AwesomeTees publishes on AwesomeTees.com will show up in the stream on Facebook like it normally would. And, any time the user searches on Facebook, AwesomeTees will show up in the typeaheads and prominently in search results.

The roadmap says that the Open Graph API is due out in the second quarter of this year. The Wall Street Journal reported last month that it will be specifically launched at f8; given that this fits with Facebook’s publicly stated timeline, that is quite likely.

As what would likely be part of the Open Graph API, TechCrunch wrote that Facebook is planning to let users “like” activity on other sites, thereby sharing that action back on to their profile and news feed for their friends to see: “One way to think of this, says a source with knowledge of the product, is this. Google spends billions of dollars indexing the web for their search engine. Facebook will get the web to index itself, exclusively for Facebook.” Meanwhile, All Facebook recently spotted code suggesting that Facebook is planning to extend its Insights analytics service to the web, as well.

Facebook Connect: We expect the company to clarify how Connect and the Open Graph API overlap. Broadly, they appear to be doing similar things. Connect, which has been around for years, lets third parties access Facebook user data from other services and share user communication back and forth with the site. Facebook recently made a big update to its terms of service, that specifically includes wording around giving select off-site partners special new access to user data. It sounds like an extension of how Connect already works. Here’s an excerpt:

In order to provide you with useful social experiences off of Facebook, we occasionally need to provide General Information about you to pre-approved third party websites and applications that use Platform at the time you visit them (if you are still logged in to Facebook). Similarly, when one of your friends visits a pre-approved website or application, it will receive General Information about you so you and your friend can be connected on that website as well (if you also have an account with that website).

A probably-related report: Facebook is working on ways for third parties to store user data for more than 24 hours.

Location: Facebook has held off from launching location-based services, even though we and others have been hearing it has been running all sorts of experiments with it. The first sign that Facebook was making moves to provide geographic location information for users happened last fall, when the company updated information about location in its terms of service. The New York Times reported last month that Facebook will provide a set of location-based APIs so third-party services can somehow share user location data back and forth with it; the announcement is coming at f8, according to the report.

TechCrunch has heard about live demos of such a federated system in action; the publication also hears that users will be able to geo-tag status updates, similar to what Facebook does, and may also use QR codes. There are numerous angles to how Facebook might do location, from user privacy to location syndication, so see our in-depth look at the matter, here.

Stream API: Facebook has been gradually making user data more broadly available in bulk format. It already has deals with Microsoft and Google, for example, where status updates from Pages can be included with search result. Jesse Stay has an intriguing post about this from late February, suggesting that FriendFeed cofounder turned top Facebook engineer Paul Buchheit has been working on a large-scale project to make Facebook more available to the web. Perhaps this is it?

ReadWriteWeb has some additional informed speculation about a potential “firehose” of data that Facebook might make available to third parties:

It’s not clear exactly what would be included in this firehose, it could be a stream of low-value Fan Page promotional content, for example. The most likely thing content to be included though is user activity data published under public privacy settings. There’s far, far more of that today than there was just a few months ago….

A Facebook firehose would be much bigger. We’re hearing that there will be no launch partners in the announcement, but the imagination runs wild thinking about all the mashup possibilities. We learned last week that user location data is coming to Facebook at F8, now picture all this rich data roaring like a river into the data digesting machines of a wide range of developers all over the world.

A firehose of public Facebook user activity data could function like a living, breathing global census. Cross reference that data with any other data set and we may find an ocean of insights into the human condition, around the world, for slices of people, second by second or over time.

Credits: Facebook’s virtual currency has been live and available to all users since 2008, when it was introduced in its Gift Shop. Third-party apps began getting access to Credits last May, with nearly all large developers beginning to test Credits as payment options within social games and other apps over the last several months. Credits is even the first payment option on Zynga’s hit game, FarmVille. Credits, as a platform product, is still technically in beta, but given the fact that so many people are already using it, the definition of “beta” seems pretty loose.

Just yesterday, the company said that it was adding offers as a new way of earning Credits, with tests going live on three of the largest social app developers on the platform.