At f8, Facebook Developers Could Get a Smarter Way to Structure Their News Feed Stories

While Facebook product launches tend to get the most speculation before the f8 developer conference  — there are 750 million users who care, after all — the company has often used the event to push grand presentations that instead target developers.

That trend may be the case again next Thursday, we’re hearing from a trusted source with some knowledge of what the company has planned.

Developers might be getting new access to Facebook’s news feed, building off of the graph API that Facebook presented at last year’s f8. They’d be able to provide new structure to the information they share into the news feed, allowing Facebook’s news feed algorithm to present it to the audience most likely to find it relevant and engage with it.

Update: Facebook spokesman Jonny Thaw has also confirmed with us that “Yes, there will be platform integration” for Smart Lists. This includes the ability for developers that have been granted access to a user’s Friend Lists to publish content specifically to members of Smart Lists.

The goal is to help developers focus on sharing what’s right for users (not just their own traffic and revenue numbers), while giving the users themselves a more subtle and serendipitous experience.

With a more structured input of information, Facebook could then match content to users who’ve previously enjoyed similar content. It could also measure which developers are producing the most beloved content, based on factors like users resharing or hiding the story, and reward the developer with more visibility for their stories. That would create a more virtuous cycle where high-quality developers become more prominent, inspiring more user engagement that benefits both developers and Facebook, the company no doubt hopes.

Structured Content for Enhanced Relevancy

To understand what the changes mean, one example might be the well-understood problem of social game spam. Say a user achieves a new high score in Scrabble, an event that’s exceptional enough that they want all of their friends to know about, not just their Scrabble-playing companions. A developer could structure the story about the high score to signal to Facebook that it is of more general interest to all of a user’s friends, or maybe just the larger subgroup of friends who have played some social games on Facebook, but have not installed Scrabble.

In another situation, a local business discovery app could structure the content shared by its users such that Facebook knows its more relevant to local users. The content would then appear more prominently in the news feed to those living in the same city as the user posting it.

This isn’t just about games and apps. The change would impact anyone sharing any information to Facebook, including all of the sites that have installed the Facebook Like button and other plugins since they launched at f8 last year, or integrated with Facebook Connect (in total, Facebook’s official stats say that more than 2.5 million sites have integrated it so far).

Developers can already ask users permission to access their Friend Lists, but since they’re unique to each user, it’s difficult to know what type of audience corresponds to what list. With platform integration for Smart Lists and special lists, which Facebook confirms with us will be available in a few days, developers will be able to ask permission to target updates published by users through their apps to local friends, classmates, coworkers, family, Close friends, and Acquaintances.

Currently, the Graph API allows developers to provide a variety of more straightforward meta data about the content they publish, like the title of the info they’re sharing, a blurb, etc. But Facebook has used other signals in its news feed algorithm to figure out what to share and with whom, such as who a user’s closest friends are based on photo tags and who’s Liked a user’s previous posts.