Facebook launches new Timeline apps

Sixty apps based on Open Graph API now available, and such apps help Facebook's monetization options and app discoverability on platform, analysts say.
Written by Jamie Yap, Contributor

Facebook on Thursday introduced new Timeline apps, written using its updated Open Graph application programming interface (API), which analysts have lauded it as a "positive move" that will also help app discovery. One social marketer however cautioned that over-sharing information may harm both users and brands.

The social networking giant officially launched 60 new Timeline apps, developed by various partners such as travel site TripAdvisor, Zynga, eBay, and Foursquare, according to a post on its developer blog Thursday. It also opened up the API to all developers interested to create apps for the platform, it revealed.

Users can now enhance their Timeline profile with apps that "help you tell your story, whether you love to cook, eat, travel, run, or review movies", said Carl Sjogreen, Facebook's director of platform, in a separate blog post the same day.

Open Graph-based apps allow users to share real-time, real-world activities and statuses, using a range of verbs and nouns such as "listened" or "baked" to describe the activities instead of just the "Like" button, the company said at its F8 developer conference in last September.

Company CEO Mark Zuckerberg added that this feature would allow "frictionless experiences [and] real-time serendipity" for users.

Increasing app awareness, revenue stream
Analyst Phil Hassey of Sydney-based research firm CapioIT commented that Facebook is being very "innovative" in coming up with Open Graph as a way to monetize its consumer base. "Clearly, Facebook is evolving very quickly and looking to exploit every commercial option it can find to grow revenue, and justify its rumored IPO price," he said in an e-mail.

Hassey added that while Web companies make up the bulk of Facebook's current crop of Open Graph partners, he expects to see more traditional organizations utilize the API and create apps to act as a medium of communication.

Michael Kauh, a Singapore-based research analyst at Canalys, agreed, adding that Open Graph is a "positive move" not just for Facebook but app developers as well, especially given Facebook's push into mobile platforms.

"App discoverability can be difficult for developers. With Open Graph, it will be easy for Facebook users to find or chance upon applications [that their friends use] that interest them. They don't have to go search for apps specifically," he explained in a phone interview.

Additionally, the new API allows users' information to flow in and out more easily, whereas such data would previously be "siloed" within the individual applications that a person used or subscribed to, Kauh pointed out.

This is good for brands and marketers because by increasing app discovery, it could potentially lead to increased word-of-mouth, subscription and sales, he said.

However, this could also mean an information overload for some users, particularly those with hundreds of friends on their networks, he noted. Some members may also not be happy or comfortable with the idea that Facebook is collecting more information about them, thus causing privacy concerns to arise, he added.

Users unperturbed about privacy
Facebook subscribers ZDNet Asia spoke to were generally supportive of the Timeline apps, though, owing to the increased granularity of controls used to manage privacy of their accounts.

University student Camille Tan, for one, said she was fine with the features. "It's not really a privacy matter because we can limit our profiles from people in the first place," she said.

Joan Wong, a teacher, concurred. "Facebook has gotten a bit more respectful and clued in on privacy controls and user authorization of an app's actions. So there is a way to opt out of posting information on your Facebook that you don't want others to see. It's just a matter of finding the way and how much hassle it takes," she stated in an e-mail.

Frederick Tay, a sales associate, said he liked that he is now able to share more information easily beyond hitting the "Like" button. He added that user privacy only becomes problematic when the app "does not give users the choice or freedom to control how and what they post".

Marketers should tread carefully
One social media marketer however cautioned against jumping onto the bandwagon too soon. Ryan Lim, business director of social media marketing agency Blugrapes, said while Open Graph is an "interesting" concept, it raises questions that need to be addressed before marketers can fully embrace it.

One such issue is the overexposure of actions from consumers, which he said might be detrimental to both the user and the brands involved. For example, if an app broadcasts news that the user is now going out for a jog, this could invite potential burglars to the user's home, he explained.

"Since apps do not seek repeated permissions once an approval has been made [the first time], users have little control and may 'over-express' themselves and this might implicate brands," Lim added.

He added that until Facebook and its users develop "some semblance of moderation, curation and social common sense", marketers will likely wait out to access the actual impact on the "brave few early adopters".

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