Facebook Director of Engineering Mike Vernal Talks All Things Open Graph

By David Cohen 

Facebook Director of Engineering Mike Vernal, who oversees the social network’s open graph platform, spoke with Ryan Tate of Wired about his goals for open graph, mobile usage of Facebook, and its app center.

Vernal on what Facebook is attempting to accomplish with open graph:

We’re trying to help users map out all of the things they care about and all of the things they’re connected to, and to help people discover things through the lens of their friends.

We’ve definitely become biased toward longer-form. The more time you spend engaging with and generating content, probably the more valuable it is.

When we started open graph, we were more focused on the discovery side of things. The theory was: Wouldn’t it be great if you could figure out which articles were interesting to your friends? We found that what people most enjoyed was being able to tell stories about those things in a more customized way. And the storytelling value of a book you spent five hours reading, or a two-hour movie you watched on Netflix, is just so much greater than an article you spent 30 seconds reading or a 20-second YouTube clip.

On the progress of open graph since its launch in January:

The thing I feel really good about is that we just have had a huge increase in diversity of apps over the past year. The biggest apps are much more beyond games — it’s things like Instagram on the photo-sharing side of things, it’s things like Spotify and Rdio on the music-sharing side of things, it’s things like Netflix and Hulu on the video side of things, it’s things like Nike+ or Endomondo on the fitness and running side of things.

I spent some of the holiday weekend playing around with 20 or 30 new apps. Almost every single one of them lets you log in with Facebook. I logged in and found my friends and could do stuff with them, and then share stuff back to Facebook in a pretty rich way. That wasn’t true a year ago.

On Facebook’s emphasis on mobile:

The biggest evolution has been the move from desktop to mobile. We’ve been 100 percent focused this year on just completely revamping our mobile platform. I’d say the vast majority of our open graph partners are either mobile- or tablet-based.

Mobile apps lend themselves to more frequent use throughout the day. A lot of the sharing we see is happening in the moment, versus soon after the fact. On the desktop side of things, you see a lot more people going back to their computer and maybe doing stuff in bulk, catching up for the day. It’s the difference between using a digital camera and iPhoto versus something like Instagram.

On the opportunity for developers to build social mobile applications:

At the risk of sounding cliché, it seems really clear to me that building mobile social apps is the next wave of big innovation. Things you can take with you everywhere that let you share things in the moment and discover things in the moment through the lens of your friends are really, really compelling.

On the social network’s app center:

On desktop, it’s been really successful. It is one of, if not the, most popular way for people to find and install apps. On mobile, it’s been really valuable, but one of the dynamics that’s different is people spend so much of their time in news feed just kind of scrolling endlessly. We found that trying to surface apps in feed is the most valuable way to aid app discovery, so we’ve been more focused on that.

App center versus the App Store is not how I think about it. Instead, we want to help people share stuff that’s important to them and help people discover things that are interesting in the world through the lens of their friends. And on the app front on mobile, I think we are doing a pretty good job of it on mobile. We are driving something like 180 million clicks per month to the app stores. It’s complementary to them.