Developers Experiment with New Search, Aggregation Products Based on Facebook Data

Facebook released new plugins and raw data last Wednesday at its f8 developer conference, making it easier for developers to create apps based on larger amounts of data. The more ambitious experiments on this front will likely take longer to materialize, but here’s a quick look at what developers have already been able to do in the past few days since the launch.

Note that there are a few different ways developers are experimenting. The simplest way is to create aggregator and search sites for publicly shared data; the more interesting but difficult options means accessing Facebook Graph API data, then analyzing the data and combining it into other aggregator and search services.

Before we look more closely, here’s some context. Although Facebook has made some user data available to third parties for years, it has done so through Connect and its application platform. The Open Graph data makes already-public data like friend lists much more easily available. Its terms of service have changed to match. Since December, Facebook has been aggressively pushing users to share more data, making some criteria like names, profile pictures and friend lists public by default. Most recently, it required users to select Pages for interests, education and other aspects of their personal profiles — and because that Page information is public, that user data is now, too.

The cost has been some upset users, privacy groups and legislators (by the way, if you want to see what you’re already sharing publicly, check out this service).

However, Facebook has made more user data than ever available for other companies to build their businesses on top of, so we should begin to see more fruits. Facebook wants to make itself more important to other businesses around the web, better accomplishing its mission of being a social layer that both extracts value from and gives back to the web ecosystem. Of course, how Facebook controls access to its user data gives it leverage over companies that decide to use the data going forward. As with any platform, developers and entrepreneurs should carefully weigh the costs and benefits of using data from Facebook.


Two sites are aggregating shared items from Facebook’s Recommendations Plugin across online media web sites: Like Button and ItsTrending. Both show the same data in quite similar interfaces, displaying what your Facebook friends are “liking” and otherwise sharing on different sites, as well as overall numbers for how many Facebook users have shared each item. They are able to do this because Facebook lets developers access publicly-shared data by users and their friends, based on each users’ social graph; however, you’ll need to be logged in to Facebook in order to see personalized results on these widgets.

Aggregation in general has proven to be a decent business. Sites like Digg and Reddit use humans to do the aggregating — these plugins give a broader look at what’s being shared than those sites simply because Facebook is so much bigger. Yet those sites have active communities who are focused on finding and sharing news; although Facebook duplicates some of this functionality, it has so far been focused on private sharing.

More sophisticated aggregation could allow these new companies or others to better compete against the human-powered aggregators. But given the simplicity of the implementation, it’s not clear how any particular one will break out in appeal to users.

Another interesting example of an aggregation business is Tweetmeme, which looks at public tweets (which are most of them). Although its core service uses the same data that anyone else has access to, it has managed to break out and grow along with Twitter, and it has built out its service to be a main way for users to find top tweets by category. Perhaps Facebook plugin aggregators could provide similar refinements?