Facebook's Developer Changes May Benefit Brands

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Facebook on Wednesday laid out a "roadmap" for developers, outlining upcoming changes aimed at making it easier for users to find and use applications and help app creators build their business on the social network.

Among the key updates in store, Facebook will enable developers to ask for users' primary email address within applications to facilitate direct contact. At the same time, developers will only be able to send notifications and invitations via email, a user's Facebook Inbox or the News Feed and other activity streams.

New application and games dashboards are slated for the home page, making it easier for people to see the latest apps they have used as well as discovering new ones based on what friends are engaging in.

To provide easier access, the applications bookmarks will be moved from the bottom left side of any page on Facebook to a more prominent location on the left side of the home page. An "Ad Bookmark" button will also be created for apps.

Among broader changes in the works, Facebook will end its verification program for apps, instead applying the initiative's more rigorous standards to all apps. Facebook is also launching an "Open Graph" API (application protocol interface) so any Web page can, in effect, become a Facebook brand page -- users can become a fan of the page, and it will show up on that user's profile and in search results.

"This means that Facebook could become a more important distribution channel for publishers even if they don't have a Facebook Page -- which could be very powerful for both Facebook and publishers in general," noted Inside Facebook editor Justin Smith in a blog post Wednesday.

Other social media experts said the changes planned in the next six months could have far-reaching implications for brands, especially the Open Graph initiative. "This is a big change because it means Facebook is no longer a destination and the experience is spread to all kinds of places," said Jeremiah Owyang, a partner at digital consulting firm Altimeter Group. In that sense, Open Graph is a developer focused follow-up to Facebook Connect, the service that lets users log onto third-party sites using their Facebook account information.

Social marketing specialists also noted that the new developer rules open the door to email marketing via Facebook. The ability to collect email addresses "is enormous for our brands and agencies because we will be able to create strategies around giving Facebook users ways to opt-in to share their primary email addresses with the brands," said Mike Lazerow, CEO of Buddy Media, which helps companies manage their social media presence.

He added that the step will bridge the gap between the more established technique of email marketing and newer approaches via social media. In a blog post Thursday, Facebook's Austin Haugen said the email practices the company is developing will be similar to signing up for or creating accounts on other Web services. "When you do so, those services can email you directly to confirm a purchase, or provide newsletters or updates for which you signed up," he wrote.

But he also emphasized the voluntary aspect of the new email feature for users: "Keep in mind that applications will never be given your email address unless you explicitly grant them permission, and like other websites you can always choose to unsubscribe if the service is no longer of value."

Facebook has had a series of privacy stumbles from the Beacon program, informing friends about users' purchases on other sites, to its terms of service controversy, where it was forced to revise its rules after appearing to claim perpetual ownership of material posted to the site.

The company separately Thursday posted an updated privacy policy as part of the public comment process it adopted for all new Facebook governance policies it adopted in April following the TOS controversy. As with the revised terms, the latest version of Facebook's privacy rules are intended to do away with legalese in favor of plain language and greater clarity.

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