Facebook helps Instagram with unique Open Graph app rollout

Facebook and Instagram have been working together for weeks on an Open Graph integration for the mobile photo sharing app, Inside Facebook has discovered.

Facebook, which announced today that it acquired Instagram for $1 billion in cash and Facebook stock, has helped Instagram roll out a Timeline application to groups of users in stages without any friction on the user side.

Open Graph lets applications create “actions” that can be published automatically to Facebook. These apps compile user activity over time and share summaries of that activity on Timeline. For Instagram, that action is “took a photo.” We first saw evidence of an Instagram Open Graph app in mid-March. Late last week, we noticed a few more users who got access to the app, but even today it has not gone live for all Instagram users who have connected their accounts with Facebook. (See the difference in how Instagram posts to Facebook with and without Open Graph below.)

This type of rollout is possible because Facebook is automatically updating user permissions. Previously, users who authorized Instagram to connect with their Facebook account enabled the “post on my behalf” permission. This is the permission any app uses to post to a user’s Wall. With the addition of Open Graph apps that publish to boxes on user’s Timelines, there is a new “post on my behalf” permission seen circled below.

We discovered and confirmed with Facebook that it worked with Instagram directly to enable this Timeline permission without requiring users to re-authorize the application. In the case of Instagram, this makes sense since the setting does not change the controls users have or what the app can publish. It simply optimizes the format of posts and helps organize user’s photos on Timeline. Users still have a clear choice whether or not to share their photo on Facebook when they create an image in the Instagram mobile app. Presenting users with an auth dialog for a second time when the change does not affect user privacy in any way simply wouldn’t be good user experience.

Whether or not Facebook will allow other developers to do the same is unclear. A spokesperson told us on Friday, “We’re currently working with a small set of partners to test extending the publish_stream permission to include the Open Graph publish_actions permission to enable apps to publish to Timeline.”

Facebook did not respond to requests for additional comment and clarification after the news about the Instagram acquisition was revealed.

Instagram users have long been able to post their photos to Facebook. Originally, these appeared as links with small thumbnails that took users off-Facebook. Earlier this year, Instagram incorporated the social network’s Photos API so that images would appear full-size and be collected in a Facebook album. Now with Open Graph, the app publishes photos in such a way that they are compiled in a box on users’ Timelines (see right). The app also publishes stories in the format: “[User] took a photo with Instagram.” This links to the photo and to the Instagram app, which are more likely to drive traffic and new users to Instagram than the previous way of publishing did.

Now that Facebook has acquired Instagram, the mobile photo sharing app is likely to have access to additional APIs and beta features so that it can optimize its Open Graph app.

With Open Graph integration

Without Open Graph integration

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