What Happened at F8?

Facebook came, it saw, it conquered and for those who were there (or watched the livestream) we saw the future of social networking and perhaps more accurately the semantic web. To paraphrase Mark Zuckerberg, the first iteration of Facebook provided you with the first 5 minutes of a conversation and through iterations they provided the next 15 minutes. Facebook’s ambitious goal for the newest profile is to provide the rest. They hope to accomplish this through the new Timeline, which is in it’s essence a scrapbook of your digital life (or at least the portion of it that you share with Facebook.) If it’s not enabled for you, you can take it for a test drive here.

Forward looking for Facebook this year means (re)discovering your past. Already industry insiders are predicting a new round of applications that will focus on helping you complete your timeline. You can imagine apps that load in your wedding photos from before the launch of Facebook. I’m not as bullish in this realm but if you’re a developer, don’t let that stop you! Timeline is the new profile and any chance to be part of that conversation is a win for developers. Below you can get a taste of the new profile.

In order to make the most sense of the chaos that can now be shared on Facebook, they hired Nicholas Feltron, a graphic designer from New York who has studied, perfected and made art of presenting large data sets. Facebook, with the help of Feltron, is working to make even our most mundane details – such as the music we listen to – interesting to those who happen upon our profiles. Facebook will elevate our preferences and tastes over time, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

Facebook has also made some changes to the Open Graph which will allow developers to publish even more content about what you are doing seamlessly and automatically without annoying popups! This seamless sharing enables a new category of applications Facebook is calling “Lifestyle Apps.” For example, an app such as Spotify will share the music that you’ve been listening to and playlists you create and then aggregate that information over time. I’ve only started using Spotify again after the Timeline announcement so my data isn’t very interesting yet, but you can see what this will look like below.

Any and every site that allows people to contribute, consume or explore what we do, interact with, attend or can be represented digitally should be integrating the new Open Graph changes as quickly as possible. Past data suggests that people are always hungry to personalize their Facebook profiles and the coming changes will allow them to do that once again.

As this rolls out over the next few months, expect data visualization to become the forefront of development. Currently there are five different widgets available, all mostly list based that developers can choose to provide data for, but it’s reasonable to expect that number to increase as Facebook considers how to create different visualizations such as maps, pie charts and bar graphs and probably more.

A dizzying array of partners are part of the new Timeline launch and have already integrated their products. Most are in music and video. Surprisingly, there were not very many gaming companies represented as launch partners in the keynote slides. The biggest names in gaming were of course present, but that’s only a handful of companies. For example, when compared to the number of audio or video applications that were part of the partner launch, the representation of gaming companies seemed lackluster.

For those who were upset by the changes to the newsfeed in advance of F8, the Ticker is the new focal point for the realtime information stream we’re all slowly getting addicted to – more on that in a minute. Sticking with the Spotify audio example, a new type of newsfeed aggregation will start appearing. If two or more of your friends happen to be listening to the same song – or artist – in Spotify, you’ll see the story in your top news. Facebook took it one step further though – allowing integration into applications on your desktop. These new aggregation stories come complete with links to the songs, albums etc enabling users to begin playing those tracks in Spotify. Being a company with smart engineers, Facebook likely took into account the echo chamber effect – so expect that the newsfeed will be filled with a steady stream of varying content. This example shows that Robert Scoble and I had both listened to a track by Deadmau5 recently.

So where do we look for the constant stream of activity from our friends? Ticker is the name for the new real time activity feed that appears on the top right of all pages. Much like the aggregated news stories, you can – with a single click – choose to listen to a song that your friend is currently listening to. Information junkies can now get their Twitter like stream of conciousness feed directly in Facebook too. This feed has everything from music, movies, photos, comments and more. Watch this space and expect it’s volume to grow over the next few weeks. This constant stream of data will likely provide an opportunity for developers to create alternative newsfeed applications by distilling this raw feed of information.

Facebook is continuing it’s march towards transparency and openness. Privacy advocates will probably not be placated by the changes to the permissions dialogs that aim to make the process of permitting applications to access your information and embed their information on your new Timeline any clearer. However, savvy users will appreciate the cleaned up interface and the preview of what Timeline integrations will look like. This will likely be an area which will require further user education for the non-savvy users. Expect to hear more from Facebook about privacy soon.

So what was it actually like at F8? Highly polished. Everything from the compostable utensils at lunch to hack areas, music integration, giant data visualization walls and more – to put it in a nutshell it was exciting. Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg are growing up and it shows. You will continue to find more technical information over the next few weeks here.

A parting thought and some insight into Facebook’s semantic ambitions. This is a terrible photograph of a beautiful poster that was given out at F8, “Eventually Everything Connects” – Charles Eames

Graph images and Charles Eames poster are photographs of swag distributed at F8.

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