Facebook Gives Users Control, Rewards Non-Abusive Apps

by , Jul 24, 2008, 7:00 AM
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Mark Zuckerberg of FacebookMore than a year after opening up its platform to outside developers, Facebook Wednesday unveiled a new set of initiatives to give users greater control while further reducing barriers to utilize the social network.

The new programs aim to reward the best Facebook applications with greater visibility and formal approval, allow members to take profile information around the Web via Facebook Connect, and let developers globally translate their applications into any language.

While Facebook's open platform sparked an explosion of new applications and increased interaction, it also unleashed a flood of spam in the form of deceptive marketing messages ostensibly sent to members by friends. A backlash also arose against the proliferation of frivolous apps like "zombie bites," and "snowball fight."

"We learned we don't want an ecosystem that are just spreading virally," said Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, announcing the new moves at the company's f8 conference in San Francisco. "We haven't done enough to reward good citizens and punish abusive apps."

Zuckerberg also highlighted some of the new features Facebook rolled out Monday as part of the site's overhaul to provide members simpler and cleaner profile pages and tools.

The upgrades include expanded ability to share photos, notes, videos and other content on the Wall, a forum for posting messages, as well as organizing profile information and content according to a streamlined set of tabs.

With the new design, Facebook is also providing marketers a set of more high-profile ad placements, including a new unit on the right side of the home page.

To help users sort out the 24,000 applications on Facebook, the new "Great Apps" program is intended to reward those deemed truly useful by giving them increased prominence on Facebook, earlier access to new features and more feedback.

A related verification process will "help users identify applications they can trust - applications that are secure, respectful and transparent, and have demonstrated commitment to compliance with Platform policies," according to the company. Verified apps will also earn increased visibility on the site.

The selection process for both programs will open to developers in September.

The effort to create a system of preferred applications could be unsettling for leading Facebook developers such as Slide and Rock You, whose Top Friends and Super Wall applications, respectively, were temporarily suspended in the last month because of security holes that allowed privacy violations.

Slide CEO Max Levchin told the blog TechCrunch Wednesday that he wanted to see clearer rules from Facebook on what is and what's not allowed on the site, as well as more formal contractual relationships between the company and developers.

While rumors surfaced before the f8 conference that Facebook might launch a payment system for apps, similar to Apple's App Store, that step wasn't among the new moves announced Wednesday.

Aiming to advance its goal of greater openness, though, the company formally unveiled the beta version of Facebook Connect, which lets users port their account information and network of friends to any third-party site, desktop application or device.

Facebook said it's currently working with 24 Web sites and applications which are adopting the new platform including Digg, Six Apart and Citysearch. Facebook Connect, for instance, would let members sign-in to Digg with their Facebook accounts rather than having to register separately on the social news site.

The new tool is expected become widely available to users in the fall. Competitors including MySpace, Google and Yahoo also announced data portability initiatives this spring.

With two-thirds of its 90 million users now outside the U.S., Facebook is increasingly catering to a global audience. To that end, the company said its translation app would be opened up so that developers anywhere can translate their applications into any of the 20 languages on Facebook, with another 69 coming.

Besides the international flavor of its audience, Zuckerberg said more than half of Facebook's 400,000 developers are outside the U.S.

Facebook is the world's largest social network, with 132 million unique visitors, as of June, according to comScore. MySpace ranks second with 117.5 million. In the U.S., however, MySpace still far surpasses Facebook in traffic, 70.5 million to 28 million.

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