Facebook announced a largely misunderstood update to its Timeline application guidelines last week, creating confusion in the development and social community. Below is a rundown of the changes and their impact on brands.
Facebook Limits Custom Actions for Apps that Publish Stories As Content Is Consumed
Facebook updated its Open Graph guidelines last week to restrict automatic sharing from applications connected to content consumption (which is when people read articles or watch videos, etc.). Action/object pairs for all apps were once unlimited, as long as they were approved by Facebook. However, the latest documentation specifically constrains the action/object pairs for applications tied to content consumption to a short-list of five pairs:
- Like – Any Object Type
- Follow - Profile
- Listen - Song, Album, Music Playlist, or Radio Station
- Read - Article
- Watch - Video, Movie, TV Show, or TV Episode
Most Custom Actions for Apps Are Not Impacted, However
Of course, most Timeline applications are not tied to content consumption and instead use the active sharing capability of Timeline apps. That is, most of the brand examples in the landscape today (such as Pottery Barn, Lay’s Customizer, Mustang Customizer) won’t be impacted by these changes. Vendors of active Open Graph sharing, like Extole, also won’t be impacted. Actions outside of content consumption can be more flexible (e.g., nommed, wants, etc.) but must still be approved by Facebook (as was the case before). Released as an update to the original post, Facebook has since clarified the change:
Update: To clarify, the majority of custom actions will continue to be approved and function as normal. The changes announced below only impact custom actions for apps that publish stories as content is consumed. For example, if you have an app that publishes a “view” action to timeline and news feed each time some looks at videos on your site, you must migrate to the appropriate built-in action “watch” — to provide a consistent user experience. For more information on what is considered a content consumption action please see the matrix in our Open Graph guidelines.
To make this more tangible, these are examples of things that will stay the same:
- Sharing from Instagram, Foodspotting and Foursquare because you have to select Facebook to opt to share each time. To clarify, the actions associated with each of these (took, nommed, checked in) will all remain and will not be removed (because they are not limiting existing approved actions from active-sharing Timeline apps)
- Sharing on e-commerce or gaming when it’s relevant (e.g., the user consented or it’s a meaningful aggregation). Here are examples from Facebook’s documentation:
- This is still allowed: User browses content in the app and clicks a “want” button. A story is published back to the user’s timeline and to the news feed of friends that the person “wants” content. (Rationale: “There are clear controls to share back to Facebook. Action ["want"] is not related to content consumption.”)
- This is still allowed: User completes a level in a game and a story is published back to the user’s Timeline and to the news feed of friends that the person “won” the match. (Rationale: “User performed action that triggered story. Action is not related to content consumption.”)
- Viddy’s sharing or sharing from other video platforms (since these fall within the five approved actions for content consumption)
These are examples of things that will change:
- Likely, Pinterest won’t continue publishing all of the activity of pinning, following, etc. that happens on Pinterest.com because it’s passive sharing.
- An app that published a story upon visiting likely won’t still publish a story (though most don’t currently do this).
Implications for Users
Facebook is continuously refining its activity to make the News Feed as relevant to users as possible. These updates help to prevent content consumption spam and help to ensure that users are only seeing the most meaningful stories in their News Feeds.
Applications that show in the News Feed are prioritized according to Facebook’s GraphRank, which is, in short, the EdgeRank for applications. Read more about Edgerank and GraphRank here.
Facebook Removes Authenticated Referrals — to the Detriment of User Experience
Rob Kischuk and I discussed a small detail that was incorporated into the Open Graph guidelines, which seems to be a detriment to user experience. Specifically, authenticated referrals are no longer allowed. This means that applications cannot customize a user’s first-time experience upon visiting the application based on their Facebook data (such as using their interests to create a playlist custom to them, like Vevo, or triggering a list of books they may have read, like GoodReads). This strategy is still included in Facebook’s documentation for best practices for applications and has not yet been updated.
For More Information
For more about Facebook’s latest updates and how they apply to brands, check out my presentation: “Apps, Timeline and Facepile: Making Sense of Facebook as a Non-Developer” on SlideShare.