Social Networking

Facebook Tags Best Apps, Springs User Data

Facebook on Wednesday announced several changes in the way applications and user information are handled. The social networking site’s new measures include Facebook Connect, the Great Apps program and the Facebook Verification program, officials said at Facebook’s F8 developer’s conference. The company also announced a new developer’s site.

More than 400,000 developers have created applications for the Facebook platform; they’re used by the site’s 90 million-plus subscribers.

Making Connections

Set to launch this fall, Facebook Connect will enable Facebook members to carry their identities — including friends and privacy settings — to other third-party Web sites, desktop applications and devices. Web sites, conversely, will be able to deploy features from the Facebook platform on their sites. Developers will have a larger and more diverse audience for their applications, the company said.

The service will enable users to share their Internet-related activities with their friends on Facebook through feeds.

Digg, Six Apart, Citysearch and 21 other sites and applications have already joined Facebook Connect. Other planned participants include, Disney-ABC Television Group, Evite, Hulu, Plaxo, Twitter and Xobni.

“Subscribers don’t belong to just a single service. The idea that they can connect between Twitter and Facebook would be nice. People would appreciate that,” Roger Kay, president of Endpoint Technologies Associates, told TechNewsWorld.

Facebook Connect is part of a broad trend toward a distributed social Web, one that goes beyond a single site and adds a social dimension to most of our Web activities, said Ray Valdes, a Gartner analyst.

“I think there is a genuine need for people to have better ways of connecting. I don’t think social network users have been specifically requesting this, but they did not specifically request features such as the Facebook News Feed — that was viewed negatively when launched and is now perhaps the most valuable aspect of Facebook,” he told TechNewsWorld.

Facebook Connect will join similar services in the works from competitors. MySpace announced this week that it has joined the OpenID alliance, an open standard that will allow users to cruise the Net with a single sign-in and password to member sites. It has been adopted by companies such as AOL, Google, IBM, Microsoft and Yahoo. OpenID, however, does not enable third-party Web sites to take advantage of the MySpace developer’s platform.

That’s where Google’s Friend Connect comes in. The service, currently in alpha testing, will enable Web sites to add social features from Google’s catalog of gadgets to their sites.

Better Apps

Facebook’s new Application Verification program is intended to provide users extra assurance that the applications on Facebook are trustworthy, secure, respectful, transparent and have a demonstrated commitment to compliance with the platform’s policies. The bonus for developers is that verified applications will benefit from increased visibility, the company said.

The program is a response to complaints from users, according to Valdes.

“Users have been grumbling about unwanted messages generated by ‘spammy’ applications for some time. Facebook is taking a positive step in addressing these very real concerns,” he explained.

“Anybody who has a platform wants to make sure that any applications that run in their environment run well and don’t do any harm,” Kay added.

The verification program is a positive step, but according to Valdes, Facebook needs to take several steps to prevent substandard applications from making their way to subscribers.

“I think there are multiple actions, taken in parallel, that are needed to solve the problem. These range from informal changes, changes in culture and tone, to formal suspension, to recognition and reward of good behavior,” he said.

If developers need a carrot to help them create the high-level applications, Facebook hopes the new Great Apps Program could be what they need. The program will recognize outstanding applications that advance Facebook’s goals and benefit users.

The applications need to embody the site’s 10 guiding principles: social, useful, engaging, expressive, secure, respectful, transparent, clean, fast and robust. Examples of Great Apps include iLike, a music-sharing and news application, and Causes, an activism tool.

Developers will be able to apply for the Great Apps selection later this summer.

“The great apps program is a worthy effort, but I don’t think by itself it will spur developers to create new and better applications. However I hope it will give guidance to developers in correcting the behavior of rude applications,” Valdes noted.

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