We’re at the San Francisco Design center, blogging Inside Network’s third annual Inside Social Apps conference. Founder of Inside Network Justin Smith sat down with Facebook Director of Product Management Carl Sjogreen for a fireside chat called “The Facebook Platform Roadmap in 2012.” With the company filing for an initial public offering last week, Sjogreen was unable to share too much about the future of monetization the platform, but he provided insight on the state of Open Graph, mobile and games on Facebook.
The following is a paraphrased transcript of the discussion.
Justin Smith: It’s been a few months since the announcements at f8. Take us through the new changes.
Carl Sjogreen: There are basically three major areas Open Graph, mobile and games. Open Graph sounds sort of abstract so it’s useful to talk about what the product is and how we built it. The point of Open Graph for the everyday user is to enrich Timeline. Facbeook is more interesting for you and for your frends if not just what you do on Facebook. OG has potential to
Justin: Historically apps that have monetized well have been games. Most of what we’ve seen in Timline/Ticker format have been media focused. Could you talk about your vision for the opportunities there?
Carl: At f8 we launched with dozens of partners with news, music, etc. What you’ve seen from Open Graph so far is a small part of the vision. In the past, a lot of time and energy for developers has been spent figuring out what are the channels and how do I use them? You needed to have a Ph.D in Facebook to be successful in building an app on the platform. We want people to build fun games, awesome social music applications, cool ways for people for learn about fashion from their friends. With Open Graph you just share the activity that’s happening in the application and that just sort of lights up the Facebook environment.
Justin: Over the past few years there have been a variety of iterations of distribution channels and notifications. Do you think it will be more oriented around Ticker in the future?
Carl: There definitely ways to optimize Open Graph distribution. How you generate stories, how they aggregate together. More sturctured information leads to more interesting stories. We want to move to a model where fundamentally the integration point in the app is to take the action and add it to Facebook in a structured way. Then we can take that structured data and create a more structured representation of the core activity within an application. Instead of making a post to News Feed and nowhere else. By connecting application activity with Facebook, we can turn on Ticker, Timeline and whatever we come up with next. We’re really in early days with this. We’re still trying to figure out what are all the right tools for developers. We want it to be a simple process for developers. For users, it’s about creating a rich, immersive experience to fill in Timeline with the things you care about.
Justin: How does Open Graph affect the game developer community?
Carl: One of my favorite examples is Words With Friends. It now shares all the words I play without interrupting me with a dialog. I think the potential for games is huge. One of design centers of Open Graph is that we want people to build great apps, and by simply adding the actions users already take within apps into Facebook. So you have to think like a user, “what are the things you’d want to show off on Timeline, show off to your friends, what are the things you want to share?” Those are great things to enable with Open Graph because it makes Timeline richer.
Justin: How much time is spent thinking about games versus other types of apps at Facebook?
Carl: Games are the shining example of how social by design can be transformative for an industry. We want to help games reach the audience that’s right for them. We want to drive engagement and help application partners grow. What’s good for them is good for us. Games are really important. Open Graph and mobile are the new channels and technology platforms on which games can be successful and opens up new categories of apps.
Justin: So games discovery is treated like any other app?
Carl: We have a whole team focused on the needs of games and making sure that canvas apps are doing well. We’ve added a dedicated games unit on Timeline. We’ll expand that over time to become most compelling place to talk about the games that you play.
Justin: Earlier in the day we had CEOs of some of the top game companies express concerns about Facebook thinking about things instead of games. What are your thoughts on that?
Carl: It’s absolutely not true that we’re investing in one at the expense of the other. There are some people on Facebook who love games and whose Timelines would be incomplete without games activity. But some people would much prefer to have apps about food they ate, music they listened to, runs went on. In order for Timeline to be complete, we need to be broader than that.
Justin: Open Graph allows new types of connections between people and objects. How will those different connections be used in the future.
Carl: You can create an Open Graph connection that represents neighbors in CityVille. You can create whatever connection makes sense to you. It’s still the early days with this. We’re trying to figure out which is most meaningful for distribution for developers. We tried to take an open approach. You can add to the graph with whatever activity that works for you. Over time we’ll look at meaningful connections. It’s early to be coalescing now, but that’s what will go on.
Justin: How will the best games look going forward with Open Graph?
Carl: My biggest frustration with games — and this is because of the way the Facebook platform had been working — is that I’m constantly interrupted with dialogs to post to News Feed or send a request to friends. As someone who likes a game, I want to express that activtiy to my friends, but I don’t need to be interrupted every time to share that activity. With Open Graph there’s an opportunity to figure out what are the stories people want to share.
Justin: How does real time discovery factor into Timeline and Ticker?
Carl: Timeline and Ticker are opposite ends of the spectrum. Timeline favors long term activity, like the artists I listened to the most this month. Ticker and News Feed are about what’s happening right now in my friends circle. Within Ticker we launched a “listen together” feature. That’s exactly the real time serendipitous experience Ticker was meant for. Timeline is about telling bigger stories, are you a traveller, a chef, etc.
Justin: Let’s talk about the mobile web platform. What are the results you’re seeing and how do those match your expectations?
Carl: 60 million people have engaged with apps on the mobile platform 300 million times a month. That’s a level of success in first few months. Overall we have 845 million users visit Facebook every month, over half on a mobile device. So we are taking all communication channels that made the web platform what it is and brought it to mobile. I think it’s the least understood aspect of what we do and the most underappreciated opportunity. This is where lots of people are engaging on Facebook.
Justin: How does mobile app engagement compare to engagement on desktop?
Carl: I think the core dynamics are the same. You see some activity about apps your friends are using and click through. On mobile we have some push notifications for invitiation requests. And there’s bookmarks. Bookmarks don’t feel that sexy, they’ve been around long time, but they’re an important rengagement factor. Millions of people go to the Facebook app first thing everyday. With bookmarks down the side, it’s a way for applications to reengage after they’ve been installed. When you navigate from profile to News Feed and see those bookmarks, it’s a powerful reminder.
Justin: What are milestones you’re looking at for mobile success?
Carl: We’re looking at users that engage with an app every day or every month. Fundamentally success means mobile apps that are awesome high quality that have grown dramatically because of Facebook. That’s qualitatively how we’ll know we’re really successful. We’re also looking for breadth too. There is an app that all 845 million Facebook users should be using, but it might be different for each one. With Open graph apps, a lot of them are mobile. Pinterest had over a million users who have enabled mobile Timeline integration.
Justin: For a lot of the game developers here today, HTML5 is one of the more experimental aspects of their business. What is your pitch to them?
Carl: I think we’re misunderstood there. We want every app to be integrated with Facebook. For some apps it makes total sense to be native apps. For others it makes sense to be cross-platform with HTML5. To us, we don’t really care. We want to help them all be better through integration with Open Graph. All of these means for distribution and discovery work just as well for HTML5 and native apps.
Justin: What are the principles developers should be looking at for making that decision for themselves?
Carl: Something that’s obvious in retrospect, but was more subtle when I started thinking about it is looking at addressable market in each of those platforms. So, I want to play Words With Friends with my mom, but I don’t care what platform she’s on. It just matters to me that she can play it too. The people you want to play with trump the platform the app is on. If your fundmental gameplay revolves around interacting with friends, then being cross playform is really important. Others that are more graphics intensive or that use native hardware like camera, it clearly makes sense to be native. You make the choice on attributes of your application and how important is it to be cross platform.
Justin: In the early days of the Facebook platform, there were link exchange type services that helped shuffle traffic around. Do you think there is a role for third party distribution on the web or mobile?
Carl: Discovery of mobile applications is an interesting problem we’re trying to address. On the web it has largely been social cues — what your friends are playing — that are really improtant. I think we’re really well positioned. That’s fundamentally what our platform is about.
Justin: Lastly, with the changes in Timeline and Ticker, how will that affect applications that work on pages? Lots of business are investing a lot in page applications, how does this affect them?
Carl: A lot of the same tenants apply to applications for pages as well. If you can build experiences to tell your story, fill out Timeline. There is a lot of opportunity for page developers as well. I don’t think we have any plans to change how applications integrate with pages.