It’s Not That Facebook Will Spam Your Friends…

By Travis Todd |

… it’s just that they’re not very good at explaining how their site works.

Facebook’s F8 talk took place on Tuesday at the swanky Soho House in Berlin; a bit of a step up in venue from last year’s Facebook HACK event at the Kalkscheune. Unfortunately, there was barely enough enthusiasm to match the upgrade.

The talk centred around expansion of the new Open Graph ecosystem that was announced by Mark Zuckerberg at this event’s big brother a few weeks ago in San Francisco. If you’re not familiar, the short explanation is that where previously you could only “like” objects around the web, you can now verb anything via Facebook. What’s more, if you allow it to, a website can verb all number of things on your behalf. Sounds a bit Big Brother-esque, right?

The main pitch from Facebook is that the old application permission popups were intimidating for normal users because they didn’t understand exactly what the application wanted to do with their data. Normal users were also very afraid of “spamming their friends” with content they didn’t think was useful.  The new permission popups allow developers to explain a bit more about what they’re going to do with your data and what they’ll push to your profile (albeit with a hard to accomplish character limit).

The problem, at least, in this developer’s mind, is that the one click “we’ll verb for you” makes users even more paranoid about spamming their friends, a problem that cannot be consoled in a terse application description.

I asked one of the several Facebook developers in attendance if they had done any testing to see if users were more comfortable with the new dialogs. The short answer I got was: “No.”

Investing a Heaping Pile of Trust

Initially it seemed a case of, “here’s Facebook changing things again and just forcing the users to adapt.” But he went on to explain that there are several complicated algorithms at work that determine where a post from such an application lands. For example, if your friend is a social gamer, but you’re not, you won’t see any posts in your newsfeed about your friend’s gaming achievements. They’ll only occasionally appear in the new “ticker” on the right side of your Facebook page.

We discussed the way these apps work against your ticker, newsfeed and timeline for a while and by the end, I was much more open to the idea of allowing more apps to sync up with my Facebook account. You still have to invest a heaping pile of trust with Facebook to get these algorithms right.

The thought did occur, however, as to why it had needed attendance at a Facebook event to figure this out – why are they not making this clearer to their users? Perhaps this news outlet needs to help do Facebook’s job for them…

And so here it is: Connecting an application or website to your Facebook account is not going to spam your friends with unnecessary content. It will only show it to those people who are interested in the same thing… or so we hope.