Facebook introduces platform changes today that will help it diversify beyond social gaming and add new user acquisition points for developers. Here are four key changes happening now:
1) Facebook is making a serious effort to diversify the platform beyond gaming and marketing by expanding the kinds of structured behavior users can share.
Facebook has long had a conflicted relationship with the fact that the most mature verticals on the platform have been social gaming and marketing. The platform has spawned companies like Zynga, which was founded just four years ago and went on to earn $279 million in revenue in the second quarter of this year.
But the platform has yet to produce a third-party business of similar size in another industry even though Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg has repeated in multiple events that he believes that social networking will revolutionize every industry from the ground up.
Today, the company is expanding the range of structured actions users can take on the platform. Users can now “Watch,” “Listen,” “Cook,” or “Run,” among numerous other types of behavior. It adds more granularity to the “Like,” button, and will ideally fuel the growth of many types of apps beyond gaming. The company showed off a number of examples apps like “Social Cooking” and the Spotify integration, where users can catalogue what they’ve cooked or what music they’ve listened to.
The question is whether adding a social layer and stronger viral distribution on Facebook will help make these long-troubled industries like music and media more financially viable. Spotify chief executive Daniel Ek did say on-stage today at the developer conference that Facebook-integrated users were more likely to pay for the service, but didn’t specify by how much.
2) Graph Rank adds interests to the social graph, matching users with the types of news feed stories like music, cooking or movie-themed ones that are most likely to engage them.
Facebook is adding another layer of sophistication to the Open Graph today that will match news feed stories with users based on their interests. So users who are likely to click on music-themed stories, will probably see more music-related activity in their news feed. It appears to build on platform changes the company introduced within the last year that matched gaming activity with users who play games.
3) Facebook will make it easier for developers to get users to continuously share their activity on the network.
Since the company’s botched launch of Beacon four years ago, Facebook has struggled with how to boost sharing activity in a way that respects the privacy of users. As the company has matured and attracted more mainstream users, it’s had to learn how and when to push online social mores without damaging its brand too much.
Today, the company is doing a careful pendulum swing back toward more continuous sharing by letting users give third-party apps the ability to constantly stream their activity. Users maintain control because they can toggle on or off the ability of third-party apps to share their behavior. The news feed is also far more sophisticated now and can filter out activity that’s uninteresting so users don’t have to worry about bombarding their friends. But there is still potential for abuse.
4) Developers can focus on three user acquisition points on the platform: timeline, news feed and the ticker.
With timeline and ticker, Facebook introduces two new user acquisition points for developers this week. One is the ticker, which shares activity on the network with more emphasis on how recently it was published. The second is the news feed which appears to be relatively unchanged from before in that developers need to get their users to share updates that can easily attract likes and comments for higher rank.
The third — the Timeline — is probably the most difficult to break into. A third-party app would have to produce a news feed story that attracts enough engagement that it might count as the best update from a given month or year of a user’s life.
Ticker: Low barriers to access, but likely a lower clickthrough rate. Ticker was introduced last week and shows a live feed of user activity from across the web. Facebook vice president Mike Schroepfer said during a press question-and-answer session at the developer conference today that the company will continually to tweak the ticker for more engaging activity. So there is some filtering for engagement, but less than what would be seen on the news feed.
News Feed: Similar to before. High barriers to access. An item would need to have high EdgeRank (e.g. a user would see an item if the update itself attracted many likes or comments or if it was from a friend they often interact with on Facebook).
Timeline: High barriers to access. Timeline is a new profile view that lets people see a visual history of a user’s life. To see something in Timeline, the news feed story would have to be the most engaging from a given month or year in a user’s life or they’d have to intentionally curate it into their Timeline.
Or a user could add an application to their timeline, akin to what “Boxes” used to do in letting users feature applications on their profile page until it was removed last year.