Facebook’s New Open Graph and Timeline

Two new huge changes are coming to Facebook soon: Open Graph and the Timeline. These changes are being rolled out while Facebook is making headlines about their latest changes to the News Feed and Ticker.

Open Graph:

Facebook can been viewed as a large graph with connections between content-types that, until now, only Facebook defined. These content-types include users, pages, links, videos, etc. In the current Facebook API, we can only create new instances of these pre-defined content-types (Facebook calls these objects) and connections between these instances (Facebook calls these actions). What the new Open Graph API lets us do is define custom objects and actions within our Facebook applications.

Many mobile apps we develop at Hardin integrate with Facebook. This integration is usually very shallow. We either scrape user profile information or try to connect users within the app to their Facebook friends. With the new Open Graph, we can now parallel the actions users take in mobile apps on Facebook.

For example, let’s say I was creating a mobile app that allowed users to check into dog parks. I could create a dog park object in my Facebook app and my mobile app. I could then define a check-in action on dog parks within Facebook. When a user checks in, I would create the relationship using the Open Graph API. The action and the object would then show up in that user’s Timeline and in their friends’ News Feeds and Tickers.

The Open Graph also lets you define web content in web apps as objects using special HTML meta tags.

I think these new technologies are exciting and will allow us as developers to more deeply integrate the products we make into Facebook. This is something we are often requested to do for clients and these new APIs seem to be tailor made for that purpose.

Timeline:

Timeline is Facebook’s replacement for user profiles. Recently the headlines have been dominated by the negative reaction users have had to the new News Feed and Ticker. Personally, I think most of these reports are being exaggerated by the media to attract more page views. So it’s going to be interesting to see what happens when Timeline is rolled out, because it makes the recent Ticker and News Feeds changes look like the minor UI tweaks they really are.

Timeline is a complete redesign of walls, user info, and basically any information you can currently view on a user’s profile (check out the link above to see the changes). The name highlights the biggest feature of this new profile: a timeline. You can now navigate through a user’s past and see all the content they have ever posted since the creation of their account. This is probably going to cause another privacy backlash from Facebook users, but the rest of the features that Timeline brings are actually pretty great.

Timeline will also be the vehicle that displays new Open Graph objects and actions, so like the new changes or not, you won’t be seeing any Open Graph goodness until Timeline rolls out in full force.

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