Open Graph Apps for the Masses? An Overview of Recent Changes.

In January 2012 Open Graph, an interface that enables deeper integration of proprietary apps and websites with the Facebook Graph, was launched and publicly activated. Since then a lot of aspects of this software have been overhauled, some features were enhanced, some completely canceled. Despite initial scepticism — there was apprehension concerning extensive additional efforts for developing apps— changes made in the last weeks clearly showed one thing: Facebook wants to clear the roadblocks and even out the incipient learning curve to convince even more concept developers/programmers of their story-telling approach.

From the beginning Open Graph had a hard-to-sell-problem due to the preconception that the implementation was too complex and clearing of features was to slow for the fast paced, short lived field of the app business (eg for marketing campaigns). Thankfully Facebook has since taken many steps to minimize entry barriers.

Bye bye aggregations!
Since the introduction of Open Graph developers have routinely neglected aggregations. The concept was simple enough: stories published via Open Graph could be directly collected and displayed on the Facebook members’ timeline. No sophisticated fiddling in the code of the app necessary, simply configure the display settings in the developer’s preferences in Facebook. Despite this simple idea the manifold settings options confused novice app developers and results were usually below par.

example for one of the few good aggregations (developed by Foursquare)

example for one of the few good aggregations (developed by Foursquare)

Unsolved bug reports and user complaints have since hinted at a likely radical change or even the demise of aggregations and finally Facebook recently announced the end of this feature.

Welcome collections!
Aggregations are dead! Long live aggregation! With introduction of Open Graph Collections Facebook now offers a tool that makes it much easier to store aggregated stories of an app in your Facebook timeline. Collections have two fundamental advantages over the tricky aggregations:

1. Easy creation: choose the respective action — set the display format – done!
2. Freedom of choice for Facebook members whether they want to add a certain collection of an app to their timeline (see “Opt-in”) and where in the timeline it shall be placed

Collections have to be cleared by Facebook just like actions to avoid entirely wrong configurations and improve the quality of timelines. Good news is that clearing is achieved within a few hours.

Due to the fact that “app sections” doesn’t show on the own timeline as default it is recommended to include a subtle hint directly in the app to coax the user into publishing the collection on their timeline. For that purpose Facebook offers a special link for developers (“profile_section_url”) that takes Facebook members directly to the right viewing format (“Add to profile”).

Changes in the developer’s backend
Common actions (the former “Built-in actions”) can now be used without configuration by any app and automatically show in the app settings. With the recent expansion by actions for books, movies/tv and fitness there are now 14 common actions at the time of writing this article. Not bad for the moment — but a word of caution! Just because it is possible to publish this actions without configuration doesn’t mean every app is allowed to use them! Some common actions (e.g. “music.listens”) still have special terms of usage which have to be strictly adhered to!

As of last week finally there’s a central overview of the activation of stories/collections and app center entries.

Source: Facebook: Understanding the Open Graph Submission Process

Source: Facebook: Understanding the Open Graph Submission Process

In addition the “Get code” was adapted and now holds examples of all CRUD commands plus the necessary permisson query. Big like!

We’ve seen one thing in the last few months: be it common actions (210.000 years (!) worth of music played over the last 14 months; a total of 400 bn published actions) or customised stories in news feed or timeline, Open Graph is here to stay and will continue to assert itself as the central connector for app developers.

Not only has the usage become much simpler for developers, but people have come to appreciate the broad palette of common actions in apps with deep Facebook integration. And finally we can bust the myth of the very common sentiment of Endless Activation Wait: developers exercising due diligence and preparation are rewarded with clearing times of less than 24 hours.

So go ahead, give Open Graph a shot in one of your next projects!

Disclaimer: This post was originally published in german. Translation by Harry Weber

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