Facebook gives developers new setting to publish more prominent stories from Open Graph apps

Facebook today announced an “explicit sharing” parameter for Open Graph apps, which will allow developers to publish more prominent News Feed stories on behalf of their users who want to share actions like taking photos, checking into locations or providing commentary.

When Facebook introduced the concept of Open Graph apps last year, the idea was that users would consistently share their app activity after a one-time authorization. This activity would be added to a box on a user’s Timeline and distributed to friends through Ticker. Whether the story would appear in a friend’s News Feed would depend on the weight of the action — for example earning a rare achievement within a game — and a user’s relationship to the friend and affinity for a certain category of app — for example, showing more news activity to users of social reader apps. These algorithms, as any, are a work in progress that will require more signals to be truly relevant.

Not only was this somewhat difficult for developers who want to maximize their reach, it could be quite unclear to users who wanted to share something from an app with all their friends. Facebook uses the example of how when people choose to share a run they took with a fitness app, they expect the content to appear as if they had posted it directly to Facebook.

Now with explicit sharing, developers can indicate which actions should be shared more prominently in the feed, for example, location sharing or a user-generated photo or message. Activity that happens naturally through using an app — listening, reading or watching — or lightweight actions such as following, favoriting or saving, will continue to be distributed and aggregated as before.

This change is likely to help developers drive more traffic to their apps and improve the experience for users. When Facebook debuted Open Graph apps at f8 last year, the company emphasized “frictionless sharing.” This term led some developers to focus on the auto-sharing aspect at the expense of user experience and trust. Now Facebook has to do damage control on the user and developer side. Users need more ways to control how they share, and developers need resources to understand how Open Graph apps work and what their value is besides auto-publishing.

One benefit is the noun-verb construction, which lends itself to powerful stories on a user’s Timeline and rich aggregations in the feed. For instance, Ticker stories about what a person’s friends are listening to right now might be considered noise, but being able to see that three friends listened to the same album in one week might be interesting. This information is even more useful when it appears not in the feed but when someone is actively searching for information about a musician, which is why Facebook displays these stories on artists’ pages. And for many app users, it’s valuable to be able to see their own activity over time, either to recall something in the past or to learn something new about themselves.

These situations are possible because of the structure of Open Graph. With the new explicit share option, we may see more developers begin to think beyond auto-sharing and build apps that take advantage of this unique format. Developers who want to make their existing Open Graph actions eligible to explicitly shared will have to resubmit their actions for review. Facebook says it may take up to seven days to provide feedback to developers. Documentation for the new parameter is available here.

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