Facebook apps – personals

I have been following the ascent of Facebook, just like everyone else in the Bay Area that likes technology. The advent of a company that does so much so well is astonishing, especially after considering all the competitors that didn't do so well.

In particular, Facebook opened up their own application to third party app developers. They provided a series of APIs that allow geeks to create add-ons that use the Facebook database and integrate into its user interfaces and communication mechanisms.

Most of the apps that came out early on were simple dissemination gadgets. It was about "infecting" your friends and creating as wide a circle as possible. This is in direct response to the concept of the social graph that is so close to the company's founder. 

Recently, though, applications have started popping up that are more useful, in that they supplement Facebook with those functions of {moscontentlink:Social Gravity|Social Gravity} that are anathema to the founders, who believe in communication mostly with your friends.

The one that fascinates me the most, right now, is Are YOU Interested? an application that allows you to see pictures of random Facebook users and to decide whether you are interested in them or not. Essentially you say you state whom you'd like to meet (men, women, age group) and then, when the pics pop up, you simply say like or dislike

The trick is that the other person is informed of your interest. You can either probe them directly (in which case they'll know you are interested in them) or anonymously (in which case your profile will show up in their next search). They can then decide whether they like you in turn, in which case you become a match.

Once you are matched up, you can then use the communication tools provided by Facebook: poke, message, add to friends. That way, you can randomly increase the size of your friend pool, and add the crucial functionality of social pull to your Facebook experience.

Of course, this app does not remove the deficiencies of Facebook's friend concept: there still is no real consciousness of the roles of friends and friend ACLs, only a very basic idea of "limited profile" that you have to turn on for each new friend you make. Additionally, the app itself is really poorly written – once you find a match, you can't move them to a different category. There are three categories: people you liked, people you didn't like, and matches. The app is not aware of the fact you sent a match a message (in which case you probably want them somehow marked).

The interesting thing is to see how the integration works. When I was at Bluepulse, one of the engineers was upset we would ask for user names and passwords in the friends import, and wanted to pin me down on API usage where available. So I went in and tried to make Facebook work for us. Of course, the API covers everything except what I needed, and we had to abandon the idea. But I left with the distinct impression that Facebook had really gotten it: the API was useful and powerful, easy to implement for and very clear. Any idiot with a little experience in database design could create a Facebook application.

So, I guess I should rise to the challenge and implement a better friend finder, one that works in a more sophisticated way and maybe even helps you find better than just random matches. (That works pretty well, though.)

What does Facebook want to do? I guess for now they just want to do the same thing that the grandmother of all hosted service API vendors wanted to do: when Salesforce.com came out with their API, they wanted to increase the usefulness of their service, add a way for people to work around bugs, and create a marketplace instead of an application.

Well, the same is true here, and we find the same kind of win-win scenario:

  • users get additional functionality and possibly workarounds for bugs
  • developers get a chance to create a small application without much effort, and an instant user base to which to market
  • Facebook gets more eyeballs, a stronger presence on the Internet, and ultimately it reinforces its preeminent position as the go-to place for social interaction

Who loses? All the other social networking sites, of course, that are going to lose audience as people switch to the new apps. I, for instance, would probably not see much value in the vaunted added services of a personals site (that typically is for pay, and not cheap) if I could instead use Are YOU Interested. After all, personals sites are famous for the lack of enforcement of basic decency standards (I am not talking about clothing, but behavioral decency), so that the results of their searches are no better than random results.

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