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Facebook Connect and iPhone: The Makings of a Gaming Surge

By Renay San Miguel MacNewsWorld ECT News Network
Mar 17, 2009 4:00 AM PT

Can the social Web get any more social? You and your smartphone-loving friends are about to find out, thanks to Facebook Connect's new ability to say hello to the iPhone 3G.

Facebook Connect and iPhone: The Makings of a Gaming Surge

The top social network's decision to reach out to one of the world's most popular smartphones could be a boon for application development companies, if restaurant info/locator/review app Urbanspoon's experience is any indication. "Before this, we had somewhere on the order of 1,000 new people a day who would sign up," Urbanspoon cofounder Ethan Lowry told MacNewsWorld. "Now we have about 3,500. It's made a big difference. Facebook is responsible for about 60 percent of the new signups we're getting right now."

Facebook Connect, launched last summer amid some concerns from privacy advocates, allows you to use one login for multiple Web sites that partner with the social network. Members can cast their Facebook identity, profile and friend information -- along with privacy settings -- in a much wider net online without having to create separate accounts for each Web site. The iPhone component opens up that Connect platform to third-party smartphone developers.

"Facebook Connect easily lets developers make their Web sites and desktop applications more social," writes Facebook spokesperson Gareth Davis on the Facebook Developer Blog. "And with the explosion of iPhone apps over the last year, we want iPhone developers to reap all the benefits Facebook provides."

Getting In on the Ground Floor

Urbanspoon is one of the first 10 iPhone apps to feature Facebook Connect-ability. "We're very excited," Lowry said. "It's something we've been meaning to do for a long long time. People aren't eager to set up 50 social networks -- they're not going to do a separate social network for every context that they're interested in. We never saw a giant friend network building itself out on Urbanspoon, so getting to tap into something like Facebook, where they're already created that social graph, it's really perfect for us."

Lowry expects other app companies to see the same results that Urbanspoon has, thanks to the soaring growth of both the Facebook and iPhone platforms. The impact of saving the user time and trouble with logins is also not to be underestimated. "The concept is you can use your credentials and access other sites. That in and of itself is really useful, and when you mix it with other social stuff, it's a powerful combination."

As for Facebook, "it's fantastic, they get more and more people locked in and extend the tendrils of the network into other aspects of the user's lives," Lowry said.

Connecting to Gamers

Lowry's Urbanspoon is one of a few non-gaming iPhone apps available for the Facebook Connect launch. The others are Sportacular, for keeping track of sports scores, location-based social network Whrrl and film buff network Movies.

The launch list is a good microcosm of all the activities and interests that connect friends and that are taken to new levels by technology, said ABI Research analyst Jason Blackwell. "They're all the things you would tell a friend about," Blackwell told MacNewsWorld. "What are the movies that are out that I would be interested in going to see? What about restaurants? Those are the kinds of applications in a mobile environment, when you're on the go, that you would want."

Yet an ABI Research survey from late last year shows an impending sweet spot for an iPhone/Facebook connect universe: Nearly 30 percent of those surveyed had yet to play a game in a social networking environment. "So there's huge potential to expand on that and really get people involved in gaming on a social networking level -- because people haven't been doing that yet."

Location-Based a Game Changer?

Jeremiah Owyang, a Forrester Research analyst specializing in social networks, tweeted from this week's South by Southwest Interactive conference that iPhone's integration into Facebook Connect "means that social apps can soon be location based. That changes things."

Lowry agrees. "You can see how apps can use that -- which of your friends are currently nearby, and can try to connect you with the combination of people you know and people who are close. If we know where you are and what you like, that helps us come up with good info for you."

And whereas Urbanspoon's restaurant-related model was location-based before the iPhone, Lowry echoes Blackwell's take that gaming could benefit the most from this particular use of iPhone/Connect apps. "That's where we'll see this change -- which of your friends are nearby and offering to play games with those people."

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