Exploiting competitor information via the Facebook API

Interesting day at Facebook’s London Mobile Hack yesterday.   Disclosure:  I  skipped the hack part, which was scheduled for 5pm to 9.30pm.  But I attended a full day of lectures before I snuck off.  So I hope I can wear the t-shirt without shame.

At one point I asked Simon Cross (who built the Graph Explorer) about the relationship between:

  • the custom actions you can create, make available for users to perform,  record inside Facebook on the users’ Graph, and make available for publication to your users’ TimeLines, Tickers and Newsfeeds (subject to Facebook’s algorithmic discretion, and subject to the user having granted your app the requisite write permissions)


  • the fine-grained activity permissions that users grant to applications, which you can inspect (and troubleshoot) via Graph Explorer

I wasn’t really sure why I was asking the question – I just had a nagging feeling I was missing something.  I didn’t understand how custom actions, which are extensible, were related to activity permissions which were (presumably but not necessarily) defined in the same way (but not necessarily set to the same value) for every app.

In retrospect I was just confused.   My thinking now is that there is no necessary relationship.  The custom actions which are graph extensions occur as a combination of app design, Facebook approval, then, at run time, are instantiated and populated via user agency occurring via the app.  These custom user actions doesn’t necessarily have any link to the FB app action permission schema,  although they of course might have a link if the app action involved actually involves, at a more abstract level, any of the types of actions which occur in the permission schema.  Ok well that’s sorted then.    Maybe.  Unless I’m actually wrong here, which of course I might be.  In which case tell me.

Setting aside for the moment whatever ontological muddles I might have gotten into,  the answer I got from Simon was, I think, much more interesting than the question I asked.   What he said was that subject to the appropriate permissions having been granted by the user, it was possible for an app to read data stored in the user’s graph by other apps.    He explained that this was because Facebook viewed all data as the user’s data, and it was, therefore, for the user to decide who could view it.

Here’s an example which I just fished out of the docset:

“If the user has granted your app with the user_games_activity permission then this api will give you scores for all apps for that user. Otherwise it will give you scores only for your app.”  (source:  https://developers.facebook.com/docs/reference/api/user/#friends accessed 13.34 GMT 6 March 2012)

This has a variety of interesting potential uses, which I am sure you are busy thinking about right this minute.

Of course – what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.   If the user has granted permission, you can see the trail other apps have left, but other apps will be able see what YOU have salted away in the graph, too.


What can games learn from the X-Factor? (Bonus Q: TV + Facebook = ??)

Gorilla eating banana on TV

Image: Plindberg - Flickr

Mark Sorrell from Screenpop says games can learn from TV shows like the X-Factor. Tough talk considering the shift we’re seeing away from TV and towards Facebook.

According to recent research, people in the UK spend more hours on Facebook than they do watching telly.   The  writing is on the wall.   Facebook is stealing time from TV.    And Facebook is, in its own special way, a games platform.   So what can TV teach games?  At first glance, it looks like the score is: Facebook+Games 1, TV nulle points.

But I think Sorrell is worth listening to.   For one thing, Fremantle Media, Screenpop’s parent company,  is a leader at producing and licensing insanely popular TV shows and formats –  think X Factor, the Idol series, Britain’s Got Talent.  And more.  (I’d go on but we don’t have all day.)  Not only that, but Freemantle have built and bought a place in the TV-games tie-ins segment, via their innovation centre Screenpop, and also via recent acquisition  Ludia, who make cross-platform games for a starry roster of mass market American TV shows which again I don’t have time to list and you don’t have time read about.   Montreal-based Ludia is set to hire 100 new staff over the course of 2012.

Sorrell will be speaking at the Evolve games conference in London on December 1st next week.    And I’m looking forward to what he has to say.    (If you’re thinking of booking, don’t forget that you can get a 20% discount by quoting discount code ELELTE.  Here’s why.)

Why?  Sorrell is well placed to know what he’s talking about, and I think what he’s talking about is interesting.  The ‘TV meets games’ market is set for some really rapid evolution in the short term.  There are two things going on in the market which are responsible for this:

  •  the general shift in viewing habits towards simultaneous multi-media consumption
  •  the sudden appearance, stage right, of an 800 lb gorilla (not King Kong – Facebook)

The story that’s unfolding about Facebook and TV is more complicated than can be summarised via a leaderboard.   While Facebook has clearly stolen time from TV, what’s even more interesting in terms of market trending is the fact that simultaneous media use is becoming the norm.   Last year’s US Nielsen survey, sponsored by Yahoo!, showed that about half of viewers regularly use the TV and an Internet connection at the same time.  Interestingly, as of yet, this Internet use and TV use is mostly unrelated.   But it needn’t be.    There’s a clear opportunity here to increase engagement with programming through online participation including game-play.    This opportunity has a very particular shape.   Lots of games simply won’t fit the bill.   But some will.

The other plot line that’s unfolding has to do with the gorilla.  The 800 lb gorilla.   With its recent set of announcements at the F8 developer conference, announcing partnerships with Netflix and Hulu,  Facebook is extending itself into a media consumption platform.   I think it’s well placed to make a go of it.   For now,  the impetus is on social-graph-powered content discovery.    But game tie-ins will not be far behind.   Watch this space.

F8 2011: Apple, Twitter under attack, G+ not on radar

Facebook’s latest incarnation, revealed at F8 last night, brings it into direct head to head (or should that be face to face?)  competition with two interesting innovators:

  • Facebook’s move to socialise media consumption is a huge direct threat to Apple’s content business, and an indirect threat to the hardware business that Apple’s content business enhances
  •  Facebook’s separation of status updates into Meaningful and Ephemeral, combined with other changes,  make it more like Twitter.

There is more than one story to be told about Facebook’s relationship with Apple.  There are ways in which Apple and Facebook are symbiotic.    But make no mistake, they also compete for my attention and my spend.    Yours too.

I think Facebook holds a better hand, because, together with its partners,  it is so strongly placed to do utterly amazing things with content discovery by making use of social graph inference.   (And integrated billing can’t be a million miles away either.)   But Apple is clever, commercial and creative.    This is one story that will run and run.  I don’t know how it will end but it will be worth watching.  As Sheryl Crow says:  “sit back, enjoy the show”.

Twitter is another matter.  Facebook has been moving, amboeba-like, to embrace Twitter’s functionality, while still being Facebook  and extending into new areas (e.g. TimeLine’s LifeBook).     Facebook’s introduction of uni-directional subscription based communications is an important element of this creep, as is the UI change which make it easier to control publication privacy in a granular way, per post.    Both of these are pre-F8.    The F8 “icing on the stake” (the one pointing at Twitter’s heart) is the separation of status updates into small more trivial and ephemeral updates, which go into your ticker display, and more important stuff, which makes it into your timeline and your friends newsfeeds.   (I think.  I don’t have the new interface yet.)

There are important other reasons why Facebook has gone this route besides wanting to become more like Twitter.   One reason is to do with app and content discovery.   Another is to do with a perfectly self-interested need to try to hang on to or even increase the interest value of the newsfeed – Facebook is hoping people will self-triage their posts and the fluffy ephemeral flow will go into ticker.

Facebook isn’t just Twitter.  But it increasingly has a Twitter-like side.   The encroachment on Twitter is real.   Put it this way.  With Facebook, you get the free knife set!  Why would you buy the knife set on its own?   There are reasons, of course, why you would.  I’m not sure they will be enough of them.

What I really want to know, in order to try to call this one,  is what the current overlap is between Facebook and Twitter user bases.   Anyone got some guesses they want to share?