In the first half of 2013, Facebook has made a number of moves to improve its platform for entertainment and lifestyle applications.
New Timeline sections give users a place to save and display their favorite books, movies, TV shows and music. Developers can use new common Open Graph actions like “want to watch” and “want to read.” Users can share what they’re listening to, eating, feeling and more through structured status updates. Graph Search lets them find content and recommendations through friends and others. And a deal with Rovi gives Facebook a detailed database of information about movies, TV shows and celebrities
We spoke to Facebook Manager, Strategic Partnerships Ime Archibong about the new opportunities for entertainment apps on the platform, Facebook’s expanding role in content discovery, and how Open Graph can represent our offline activities and memories. The following is an edited transcript from that interview.
Inside Facebook: So it seems like a good time to talk to you now with the the new Timeline sections, News Feed and Graph Search all launched. Let’s start by talking about the state of Facebook’s entertainment platform.
Ime Archibong: I’m really excited about the suite of assets that are available for apps right now, in the entertainment space particularly and in the music space, which is one of the things I’m most excited about. You have things that are great for users. Take sections in the Timeline redesign that came out. Users now have a home for where their music consumption goes, and I’m pretty excited about that.
News Feed continues to be an important piece of distribution property for apps. With the redesign and the prominence of the music section coming out, that’s another huge asset. Graph Search. I think we’re still a ways away from where we’re going to go with Graph Search, but there’s no mystery that Open Graph actions will be showing up in Graph Search at some point, and that’s going to be a good source of traffic for these entertainment apps.
And I like what we’re doing in mobile right now. The new pages redesign is slick, it’s user-centric. If you think of that as a music artist’s home base in the Facebook ecosystem, and as we make it more engaging for users, it’s a good piece of real estate for artists themselves. I look at all these assets starting to stack up and how they come together and make us a meaningful distribution platform for these apps.
What were some of the observations and insights since the start of Open Graph apps and Timeline that that led to these changes like the new About page sections?
One of hypotheses we had when we started with apps like Spotify for instance was that people want to share and publish back what they’re listening to in a way that will round out their identity. We had a decent home for it with profile and aggregations that were showing on Timeline, but now we have a great home for it, and we’re really honoring that content. Someone can dig down deep and see what’s trending with you right now, what you’ve been listening to a lot, or get a good snapshot of what historically is important to you. That just feels right to me.
I moved a few weeks ago, and I was trying to downsize so I took all my books, all my CDs, all my DVDs and I literally went to my Timeline section and put in “Catcher in the Rye,” “Heart of Darkness” and so on. And then I put these things in a box to give to goodwill.
There’s always been this conversation about how as things move toward digital we lose this attachment and ownership of content. But I think we fill a pretty big void there. This (Timeline sections feature) shows how I’m emotionally attached to this Mary J. Blige CD or this Jay-Z CD without me having to take it every place I go in some form factor I don’t even listen to anymore. So it’s just observations like that that influence product and design and made us do some very interesting and compelling things for users.
For the distribution channels like News Feed and music feed, and why that became more prominent is because historically Facebook has been a hub for where people talk and have conversations around music. Music is inherently social and we just got to be sure it’s a compelling product for people to discover stuff and for artists who can get their stuff out there. That music feed is fantastic and I’m excited to see how we continue to evolve it.
The music feed is definitely one of the most compelling of the feeds. It always has been really advanced in terms of showing the power of Facebook’s data for recommendations and discovery. The key is, though, can you get that in front of people and will they click over to it? It definitely has more prominence than before, but it’s existed for a long time without people knowing about it.
One of the things I’m excited about is mobile and the prominence (the music feed) can have at the top there. Half a billion people access Facebook through the mobile application and that is what’s going to be in front of people. Making sure that we get the stories right and hit discovery in this environment is exciting.
So that addresses music, but what are the most interesting opportunities for other entertainment apps and platforms?
Going back to sections, I think things like books and movies are more tied to your identity than music in some sense. The fact that you consumed something like a book or a movie, the time investment that you put in there, is more than you do with a song. So the sections are important for those two media types. It’s like the bookshelf I had in my apartment for years.
How does your team measure success and judge where you are since f8 and the launch of Open Graph apps?
I would say we’ve been successful and we continue to want to do more and more work to take it to the next level clearly, but I think what continues to get us excited is being the No. 1 source of traffic for apps, whether that’s on the desktop or increasingly more mobile. We’re happy that a bunch of people are out there trying to solve the problem, but going back to the point of the different unique assets that we have, we think we have a unique opportunity to be the major source of traffic for these music apps or video apps or book apps. So that’s the ultimate goal and what gets us super excited to come to the office everyday.
What would you say that you try to instill to those platform partners as far as how they should be building for Facebook and what you can offer them back?
There’s a couple different pillars. One of the things for a lot of these partners for a number of years has been the identity piece. There are a lot of people (before Facebook) that didn’t think about what a media consumption product that knew who the consumer was could be. You have their name, where they’re from, who some of their friends are. And when you can go and build a product with that rich social information, it changes the bounds of what you can do as a designer, a user experience person, a product person. Then, there’s no lie we’ve been a great source of distribution. I think a lot of the smaller partners and apps that we worked with in this media space have seen great success.
What types of companies or experiences do really well? Is it those new experiences or the existing players integrating Facebook into what they have already?
It goes both ways. One of the models we had for our team was ‘We want to make social companies big and big companies social.’ The folks that have done really well are the ones that have leaned in and bought into the vision and understand that we move at the fastest pace of any platform or technology company that touches so many people and developers. Folks that can move really fast with us know that at the end of the day every meaningful metric to them, what they’re trying to get out of the integration, is going to be up and to the right.
We’ve seen it play out with something like Songza, really small team, leans in, wants to be along for the fantastic ride, willing to pivot and move really quickly with Facebook and take advantage of the stuff that we launch. And we see it with big companies like Clear Channel with iHeartRadio (which it owns). Massive, massive old school radio technology company and they sat down with us two years ago and said ‘yeah this is a mission, something we want to do.’ And iHeartRadio has seen tremendous success on the Open Graph and continues to grow and do well.
What are the types of companies that should be developing for Facebook and building into the Open Graph that aren’t yet? Is there a theme to the type of companies that aren’t but should be?
I would say, if you are a company that is building a product that is inherently social offline, that looking into the Open Graph and the hooks of the platform is where the opportunity is. We saw that with the fitness app ecosystem that sprouted up recently.
So, I’m not really a runner. I’m more of a team sports person, but all of a sudden I’m trying out this Nike fitness app and my friends are cheering me on as I run and it’s like ‘ooh ok, people are actually paying attention.’ People talk about running marathons and they run faster or it’s more enjoyable because you have the crowd there cheering and giving you support. The fact that I can now do that with just my phone, my earbuds and my Facebook friends? That my mom can cheer me on from North Carolina and my aunt can cheer me on from Kenya? That’s fantastic and great and turned me into a runner. Whether it’s digitally or a person giving me a thumbs up as I’m running by, that starts to change things. I think that was the most exciting thing for me, seeing something offline change as a result of the online integration that a company chose to do with Facebook because it is inherently social.
I think if you’re an app where you see an offline behavior that can be changed, enhanced or supported by doing it at scale, breaking down geo-boundaries, that’s where your opportunity is to plug into the Open Graph.
Yeah, I’m still waiting for a really good social book club app that takes advantage of the ability to make asynchronous experiences feel synchronous, so where I can see where a friend is in a book, leave notes for them, see what they say about something.
That’s exactly it. That’s an offline experience, that book club that people love to have. That’s exactly those folks that should be leaning into the platform.
So we’ve talked about Facebook’s role for app discovery and these new feeds and Timeline and Graph Search. There have always been opportunities for people to serendipitously discover things in News Feed, but now it seems like there are more ways for people to purposely discover content. To what degree do you guys want to be that source for serendipitous discovery versus — or together with — that intentional discovery?
The launch of Graph Search launched us into that foray where someone can come do the pull model of discovery. I know exactly what I’m looking for, I can now go type it into my search and find it. Historically in Facebook we hadn’t quite put that into the forefront or made it a great user experience, but we did the push model really really well. We’re going to continue to do that well. I continue to be excited about how good we will get at that, especially when it comes to these different content types like music. I keep going back to this idea, which is the different assets that we have at our disposal to make sure and knock that push discovery to an experience that’s really exciting for users. But yeah, our role is going to be interesting to see how it plays out. The push is going to be big for us, but as Graph Search scales out more that is going to be a good use case.
It definitely seems like Facebook is one of the most obvious companies that should be doing this for people, but then it seems like you’re in a tricky position because then what is the role of third-parties? Many of these apps start out or were created for that same sort of discovery purpose. I think of Rotten Tomatoes bringing in your friends and letting you share what you want to watch and helping people discover movies. How do you see the role of these third-parties in push and pull discovery and how does that balance with what you guys are trying to do?
You’d have to talk to each of these companies to figure out strategically what’s most important to them. Let’s default back to music again. I think if you talk to some companies, they’ll tell you that the consumption experience is the most important thing to them. They want to be where people go when they either download music or are streaming music. And once that happens, they’re happy. As a result of that philosophy, wherever the music discovery happens, whether it’s inside of the app or Facebook or Twitter or Tumblr, they don’t care as long as they’re driving that consumption experience. And then there’s going to be folks that understand and really like the discovery aspect. They’re building follow graphs and want to do the pull-push model for music or video or whatever it may be.
I think the role we play with the first bucket is clear: we want to make sure we’re a major source of traffic for those folks and we’re driving as many eyeballs to apps, websites, wherever that consumption experience can happen. For these other folks, they can use Facebook Login, they can get identity and friends and figure out how to use those things on their side for discovery. Most recently, we’ve opened up ‘want to watch,’ ‘want to listen,’ ‘want to read’ as an API that a Goodreads, a Netflix or a Spotify can go and hit so that when you log in as a brand new user and you’ve already told Facebook you want to read or watch or listen to these things, boom, here they are. So I think we play a role in both worlds, and it’s going to be a case by case thing depending on whether they’re focused on consumption only or discovery and consumption.
What do you find are the biggest barriers for companies to decide to go ahead and build on the Open Graph and create these experiences? For the people who aren’t, why aren’t they?
Sometimes it just boils down to engineering resources. At the end of the day, they’re making prioritizations and judgment calls. I won’t speculate what one company is deciding versus another, but a lot of times it comes down to prioritization and have they have to go do business and they know what they need to focus on. We talk to a lot of these folks and we have great relationships with all of them. How they integrate Facebook, whether it’s in a lightweight way or a very deep way with the Open Graph, there’s just a spectrum of options that they’re always weighing and considering versus the priorities they have on their side.
But what about those companies that aren’t even started or wouldn’t even come up with these ideas on their own? Are you guys going to companies and saying, ‘hey, what if you did this?’ Like, I’d want to go to AMC and tell them to hook in Open Graph with their membership card program to share what movies people are going to see. Do you guys go out and do those types of things?
We love to brainstorm.
So when you come to companies with pie-in-the-sky ideas and give them ways they could be like Nike, too, how do they respond?
They’re typically well received. My team focuses on non-game partnerships so we can go and have conversations with companies like Delta. Big, big, traditional company. When you go in, you don’t know what to expect. We could paint them the craziest social vision right now and they’re either going to be way over here (not getting it) or they’re going to kinda get it, or we sit down and we’re pleasantly surprised. Delta has a new mobile app and iPad app that has Facebook integration and login. They’ve been super progressive about how social ties into what has historically been somewhat of a transactional industry.
What does the app do with Facebook?
First and foremost it’s identity. Then they’re looking at how you can leverage friends and social connections as you’re going from one destination to the other. They have an in-flight app that shows you the map of the ground of where you are at any given moment on the plane and shows you where your friends are. So you have conversations like that which are pleasantly surprising.
You brought up the idea of travel, and that’s a big area for apps. For Facebook, it sort of went from games to now we’re really in this entertainment, fitness, lifestyle phase, which travel fits into. Are there sights on what the next big category might be?
For one thing, categories pop up. You know, someone could go out tomorrow and build that book club app we just talked about and before you know it, book club apps are what emerges on the platform. The developer ecosystem just forms around these different ideas and concepts, so for us we want to keep building the foundation and the tools and the infrastructure so that any offline experience or even online experience that is interested in social can go and do something meaningful for their company, for their industry and also for over a billion users.
And another thing — this is for me personally and also more broadly here inside these walls — we’re still really focused on the media space. The job’s not done there. Even sitting here in the last couple minutes we’ve talked about all the different assets that could be helping the discovery of apps. Really nailing that experience and getting that right is something we remain excited about.
Do you guys ever talk about the potential for apps that are private? So many of these apps are about sharing with friends, but how do you feel about apps that for things that people don’t necessarily want to share but they want to document or save in a structured way. Say like Weight Watchers, which is personal but might be something people want to have saved as part of their identity and milestones on Timeline. Do you ever talk to companies like that with experiences which maybe aren’t super social but are really important to people?
Identity is definitely one of the pillars of Facebook that has always been there and really emerged with the refresh and push of Timeline. That’s exactly where that space lies. We could enumerate and talk about apps for a while that might make sense, whether it’s Weight Watchers or my financial information. I could potentially see a world where we get there, but I think in order to get there we need to focus on the most social industries and app experiences that make sense so that users understand this is a place where you can save, represent, collect whatever it is that is important to you as a person.
On top of that, one of the things I’ve been most proud about with Facebook is the work that we’ve done around privacy to make sure that people are saving, publishing back, sharing to Facebook, you do have the granular controls of saying ‘I want the whole world to understand and know I love Mary J. Blige, but I only want me, myself and I to know that I love Justin Bieber.’ And maybe I want to save that because 10 years from now I want to come back and look at what kind of phase I was in there, even if it’s just for myself as a keepsake.
So, in my move recently, I pulled a cassette tape — the first cassette tape I ever had, ‘Please Hammer, Don’t Hurt Em’ MC Hammer — and I can’t play this anywhere, but I’ve been keeping it and dragging it along because it represents the first thing that I got that was musical. I remember the Christmas I got it. So I added it to my music section, and maybe it’s only me right now, but nonetheless it’s there and it’s there for me to keep.
To learn more about this topic, join us at Inside Social Apps in San Francisco June 6-7. One of our sessions is “Going Social with Entertainment and Commerce Apps.” The panel will highlight the social features that best drive engagement in these apps.