Religious Groups Build Communities on Facebook

Religion takes many forms on Facebook. There’s a Page for The Bible, with more than 4.5 million Likes. Religious leaders are gaining lots of fans, for example the Dalai Lama’s 913,200. Places of worship have their own Pages, as do important buildings such as the Support Al-Aqsa Mosque Page, with 15,200 Likes. There are also some popular applications — The God Wants You to Know app has around 2 million monthly active users, for example. Religious Facebook ads have also appeared, like Pray for an Atheist, which advertised to get people to pray for atheists to convert to Christianity.

This isn’t surprising. After all, religions have always engaged in some form of social networking. Yet, even as companies, non-profits, celebrities and everyone else has started using Pages, ads, apps and other features to reach Facebook users, many religious groups we’ve spoken to haven’t committed to the same degree. In some cases, they may believe that Facebook is not the most appropriate venue for their faith; in other cases, they simply haven’t had the resources or focus.

So here’s our look.

Buddhism

We looked at the Pages of a handful of Buddhist centers and spoke with a member of the Diamond Way Buddhist Center in Seattle with 203 Likes and a core membership of about 10 people. We also looked at the Indiana Buddhist Center in Indianapolis with 966 Likes, the Buddhist Center Lubbock Texas with 85 Likes and the Gar Drolma Buddhist Center in Dayton, Ohio with 308 Likes.

These Pages seemed to serve primarily as hubs for information — location, hours, special events, etc. — but were also used to seek volunteers, donations, ask questions about programming, provide special prayers/speeches/information and showcase photos. In the case of the Indiana Buddhist center, the Page was used heavily in a variety of ways to promote a visit from the Dalai Lama recently, including events, photos, status updates, posts (from admins and fans) and comments.

Facebook is the modern-day flyer, said Daria Novoselova, a former member of Seattle’s Diamond Way Buddhist Center by way of describing the center’s use of Facebook; the center only adds info already available on the web site. Facebook serves as a way for the center to “be available so whoever is looking for us can find us,” noting that the idea is not to recruit per se, but “make ourselves available.” The Page was created by a young member earlier this year who thought it would be good promotion, and when response was positive, Novoselova said the Center decided to continue to develop its Facebook presence — despite some ways it might clash with their beliefs.

Facebook ads serve as one example of this clash, Novoselova explains; if for example a photo of a teacher appeared on the stream next to an ad for casual dating. Another drawback is trying to maintain doctrine in an egalitarian space where people can post anything they please. “We’re a big organization and we have a lot of people with different ideas, sometimes people post things that are not appropriate,” she said. “But, at the same time, it’s a means of communication. It used to be phone books, it used to be fliers and now it’s mainly the Internet.”

Christianity

In the U.S., Christian churches were the most numerous type of religious institution on Facebook. We looked at a variety of Christian organizations for this story: non-denominational Calvary Church in Grand Rapids, Mich. with 870 Likes and a congregation of about 4,000 people, likewise non-denominational Savannah Christian Church in Georgia with 2,800 Likes, the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia in Richmond with 1,300 Likes and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Austin, Texas with more than 2,300 Likes.

Pages included social- and worship-related events posted on the Wall, photos, calls for charity and volunteerism. Retreats, conferences and in the case of the Diocese of Austin, daily mass readings provided a good mix of social and religious information on the Wall. Feedback from fans tended to be positive. These Pages also served to promote church leaders and their thoughts on doctrine. The Pope in the case of the Catholic church makes for a good example, like this April 30 status update: “Pope Benedict has approved the new Roman Missal.” Or, this April 4 status update from the Episcopal Diocese:  “View a video Easter message from Bishop Johnston.”

Sara Merrill from the Calvary Church said the organization’s arrival to Facebook in December was meant to meet congregants where they already were, via both a group and Page, and this summer she plans to promote Facebook even more. “People are using this tool anyway, if the church is absent from that, then we’re missing out on what is a big part of peoples’ lives these days — and we need to be engaging them on every avenue they’re on,” Merrill tells us.

The church has three main goals with Facebook:  foster community, support spiritual growth and conduct outreach. This had been happening on Facebook prior to the church’s Page, especially with young people involved in youth groups. Thus far the reaction has been positive, Merrill tells us, people have told her they like seeing Calvary Church pop up in their news feed in the middle of the week. The church hopes Facebook will help congregants engage around events. Calvary Church’s foray into Facebook is exemplary of many Pages we saw because while Merrill says the church wants to develop use of social media, its strategy to do so is via creating more content for its web site, then linking to it on Facebook.

This simultaneous embrace of Facebook’s technology and confusion over how, exactly, to best implement a social media strategy was present, in different degrees, with each group we spoke to.

Judaism

Jewish temples used Facebook to promote events within their temples and synagogues by sharing photos, asking for prayers on the Walls, announcing services, promoting Twitter accounts and generally encouraging participation.

We looked at the Temple Beth-El in Northbrook, Ill. with 166 Likes, Beth Simchat Yeshua Messianic Jewish Synagogue in Dayton, Ohio with 250 Likes, the Westchester Reform Temple in Scarsdale, New York with 478 Likes, the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County in Florida with 391 Likes and the 750-member Temple Beth-El in St. Petersburg, Fla. with 138 Likes, whose Rabbi Michael Torop talked to Inside Facebook about the temple’s experiences with social media.

“We are very open and embracing of new technologies and whatever they might have to offer us as a tool to creating community — not replacing it,” Torop tells us. “We’re looking for additional mechanisms to connect with members. The downside is that we want to make sure that, whatever we do as far as our Facebook presence or web presence, is something that does not become a virtual world community, or a replacement.” Temple Beth-El’s Page incorporates lots of photos from trips to New York City or Israel, information about Temple functions, as well as articles posted by Torop of what to do with leftover matzo or about the Hewbrew language.

His own personal profile counts 300-plus friends and includes information about Temple activities. The Page and a group for the Temple grew out of activity from Torop’s profile, and he says Temple youth are particularly more likely to interact via Facebook. The Temple’s Page launched in January as a means to “encourage people to show a greater interest and take part in the life of the congregation” and has since become a good way to promote events and send communications (as opposed to email). Currently it’s Torop who administers the Page, which he says has served as an interesting experiment to link to albums and calendars both on Facebook and the site.

The Temple also had an interesting experiment with Facebook ads. To promote its annual participation in the Martin Luther King, Jr. Parade earlier this year the Temple invested $24 that rendered 216,399 impressions over four days, 50 clicks and 7 people who confirmed their parade attendance. The parade wasn’t bigger than usual, but Torop tells us it was intriguing to receive so much traffic for such a small sum.

Islam

Facebook Pages seemed to be particularly important to Muslims to reaffirm their faith, at least on the Pages we reviewed. There didn’t appear to be as many mosques as churches on Facebook, but this may be due to a language barrier as we searched in English and Islam isn’t the dominant religion in the U.S. But on the Pages of mosques we did find there was a strong reaffirmation of faith taking place on the Walls, as well as interaction with the mosque’s community. For example, the Mosque That Survived the Tsunami Page (presumably the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami) has more than 5,200 Likes and people often reaffirm their faith by praising Allah, usually with a prompt such as a status update. A similar pattern emerged on the Mosque Okba Ibn Nafaa Page, with more than 6,800 Likes, celebrating an important mosque in Kairouan, Tunisia.

For reference, community mosques in London and Singapore also had Pages that reflected their communities. The East London Mosque with about 6,400 Likes has a Page where people share values and religious comments on the Wall, inquire about  religious services and are apolitically encouraged to vote. Singapore’s AlKhair Mosque with about 2,000 Likes also serves as a hub for people to ask about services, share photos/religious ideas and receive information about events, as well as participate in numerous photo albums documenting mosque activities.

Searching for “Islam” on Facebook does yield a number of mosques of the Nation of Islam, including: the Phoenix, Ariz. Muhammad Mosque No. 32 with about 1,000 Likes, Muhammad Mosque No. 15 in Atlanta, Ga. with 1,500 Likes and Muhammad’s Mosque No. 11 in Boston, Mass. with 1,200. Pages promote similar institutional information, such as speeches by leaders like Louis Farrakhan, in addition to information about community and political events, resources and Twitter accounts. Several Pages also included photos and videos produced by members who are mosque administrators.

Protocol Director Hannibal Muhammad, 26, tells us that since the Page’s launch, Facebook has figured prominently in several initiatives. Facebook facilitates networking with other mosques, disseminates mosque information, as well as assists in fundraising, education and organizing events, he says. About half of the congregation has Liked the mosque’s Page so far, he says, and Facebook has given the mosque more freedom and reach than it had with its web site.

The Hotlist Lets You Discover All the Facebook Events Around You

The Hotlist is a location-based social event discovery app for the web and iPhone which allows users to find every public Facebook event happening nearby or anywhere in the world. Users can view events occurring in a given area laid over a Google map and in a list sorted by friends attending and total attendance. Instead of focusing on checkins to your current location like Places and other location services, or showing what your friends have done in the past like review sites, The Hotlist helps you  plan your next social excursion.

The Manhattan-headquartered company was founded by NYU students Chris Mirabile and Gianna Martire in 2008. It won the NYU Stern Business Plan Competition and now operates out of the NYU Poly Incubator. The seven person team, including four developers, raised $800,000 from Centurion Holdings and launched a private beta in November of 2009. Since opening to the public, The Hotlist has gained 200,000 active users, predominantly 20-30 year olds in US metropolitan areas. It now indexes 2.95 million upcoming events, over 1 million venues, and the plans of over 50 million Facebook users. The company is working on growing its audience and improving its user experience, but does not yet have a revenue model.

Users must have a Facebook account to use The Hotlist, as login is entirely powered by Facebook Connect. Once logged in, users see a map of their neighborhood covered in flame icons denoting Facebook events happening that day. Users can click the icons or the listings in the right sidebar to see a venue’s name and address, number of friends and total people attending, and the guy-to-girl ratio. The sidebar also displays profile pictures of those attending, and buttons which allow users to RSVP on Facebook. Zooming out on the map lets users browse the most popular events in the whole city, state or world.

From The Hotlist’s homepage users can create and post plans to Facebook which don’t have an associated Facebook event. Users can also search for events or venues, use the multi-friend selector to send invites to the The Hotlist, access a list of their favorite venues, or view a customized personal calendar of events at those venues.

Clicking through to a venue’s page shows Yelp reviews and Twitter updates about the venue, and all the upcoming Facebook events taking place there. Event pages show the event description, time, location, host, and attendees pulled from from Facebook.

The typical use case see users checking out the page of events and venues in their area in the next few days, looking to discover popular ones with interesting entertainment and friends attending. So far, The Hotlist hasn’t heard of any privacy issues from users intruding on intimate gatherings that happened to be posted as public Facebook events. The Hotlists’s privacy settings are synced with one’s Facebook settings, helping avoid it being singled out for privacy concerns. Meanwhile, venues from restaurants and nightclubs to museums are gaining foot traffic from the app, and are eager to pay for increased presence, the company said.

Next, The Hotlist is looking  to close the gap in functionality between the full featured web app, and the iPhone app where users can’t RSVP or view events ahead of the current date. The team will soon release Android and Blackberry versions as well. It is also working on pulling in Places checkins as well as being able to push data to Facebook’s location service, and is considering how to use Like buttons to increase virality.

Cofounder Miribile thinks that the location service market is maturing rapidly, but that The Hotlist is differentiated. “We’re more aligned with the direction Facebook has taken, focusing on simplicity and utility value, opposed to the novel entertainment factors like badges offered by other services.” And while it seems like a power user’s take on Facebook events would be an experience lots of companies would try to provide, Mirabile explains, “the way that we are able to take Facebook events and represent them is a difficult process, a very long term project we had to embark on before we could launch the product.”

Overall, The Hotlist is a great way to learn about the social gatherings going on nearby. Those having moved to a new city or looking to fill holes in their social calendar can use the app to discover things to do, and those already out on the town can find out if there’s a better party just down the street. By combining its existing features with better search and recommendation engines, The Hotlist could become the essential tool for determining your social future.

A Facebook-Branded Phone, or Something Similar, Appears More Likely

The idea of a Facebook-branded phone — an operating system, designed and produced together with a hardware partner — has been floating around tech circles for years, as Google, Microsoft and other companies have pushed out their branded devices. But there has been little confirmed information about it.

In the firmest report yet that Facebook actually has been acting on the idea, TechCrunch hears that it is actively working with a hardware company, and has assigned top engineers to the project.

We heard a similar report in June, as others have since, and like TechCrunch, one possible partner name floated to us was INQ, the maker of popular lower-end devices. Facebook has hedged when we’ve asked, since. Without denying or confirming a branded phone project, sources at the company have previously said that observers have long speculated that it would go into designing a mobile device. And that’s what the company’s official statement on the latest report basically says, too.

Facebook’s Motivations

Facebook has had trouble accessing some parts of the mobile ecosystem, even though it says it has signed up more than 200 mobile operator partners in 60 countries. Apple has yet to introduce any major Facebook integration, despite many hints in that direction — the Facebook iPhone application is now a main attraction in the iTunes App Store, but Apple is instead launching its own social products, like the Game Center and social music feature Ping. Google and its partners developing devices for its Android OS have not released significant Facebook integration, either, yet the Facebook Android app has quietly racked up millions of users.

While Apple tightly controls its ecosystem, Android is open — to the point that many operators are making their own devices, pre-installing their preferred apps, and app stores (in fact, one report points to Facebook using Android as the base for its own version).

Apple, Google and other companies also have their own ad networks and payment systems. Everyone in the mobile ecosystem is now trying to create a platform that it can control, and Facebook has so far been stuck in the developer role. With the largest social platform on the web, Facebook’s business model is designed around being the best platform for developers, and bringing in advertising and payments revenue.

A branded operating system would give it a clearer path to monetizing mobile devices than it currently has, that would directly plug into the company’s strengths. You can imagine the phone operating system providing APIs as an extension of its existing platform, making it easier for social games and the wide range of other apps in the world to build tightly integrated mobile versions. You can imagine Credits being the main way to pay for virtual currency in apps, or whatever else Facebook and third parties might try to sell as part of the mobile experience (location-based deals, perhaps?). And you can imagine Facebook’s own ads appearing in all parts of the system if not in apps.

And if you take the audience Facebook has to market the device to — it claims more than 500 million monthly active users, and 150 million current mobile users — you can see how the whole thing could get quality traction.

Facebook’s Focus

The motivations are clear. The engineers reportedly working on the project seem to show its intent.  Joe Hewitt and Matthew Papakipos, along with new hire Erick Tseng, have key relevant product experience.

Hewitt helped build an early version of Firefox, started working on a web-based operating system called Parakey, got acquired by Facebook in 2007, then developed the first versions of its iPhone application. He has more recently been working with Facebook’s various Android integrations. Papakipos left a productive stint at Google in June, after developing the Chrome OS and associated HTML5 APIs; the browser technology is designed to work well on mobile devices. Tseng, meanwhile, became Facebook’s head of mobile products in May, having been a key product manager for Android who won a lot of respect internally at the company during the last few years.

The project, by all accounts, could still be canceled, or could turn out to be less of an operating system and more an advanced version of the existing mobile platform options — ways for carriers and developers to integrate Facebook data and communication channels, that still rely on other companies to provide the core operating system.

Among other risks, Facebook could have trouble finding carriers for a branded device, as they have been trying hard to maintain control of payments revenue, if not ads and the developer platform. To get anyone to carry the phone, Facebook could be forced into tough revenue-sharing agreements. In addition, if Tseng and Papakipos are involved with the project and are to learn from Google’s mistakes in designing the Nexus One phone, Facebook and its partners will need to make significant commitments to market the device through conventional retail channels. One problem with the Nexus One, which Tseng shepherded through development in roughly nine months, was that Google decided to market the device solely online and wasn’t able to gain cooperation from mobile operators to sell the device in brick and mortar stores.

We could see the device not being available in all markets, and perhaps more intended for developing countries, where carriers are often already in complete control, and hungrier to sign up new users. Facebook Zero, a service that lets carriers provide some Facebook services for free in exchange for upselling the users to data plans, has already helped forge special mobile relationships for the company already. In several developing markets, mobile phone users often carry more than a single device, since communicating between different networks is quite expensive. A Facebook-integrated phone could bypass many traditional financial and logistical hurdles for communicating in these markets.

In all, Facebook is strategically forced to go deeper into mobile. On the positive side, it can directly expand its products, platform, and revenues — and if it doesn’t, Google, Apple will do it instead, and get between Facebook and users.

Kim-Mai Cutler contributed to this article.

Quiz Planet Leads Up This Week’s List of Fastest-Growing Facebook Apps by MAU

Quiz Planet has edged out City of Wonder on this week’s AppData list of fastest-gaining Facebook apps by monthly active users, breaking what would have been a three-week streak by the Playdom game:

Top Gainers This Week
Name MAU Gain Gain,%
1. Original Quiz Planet 11,418,904 +1,850,064 +19%
2. App_2_114335335255741_9738 City of Wonder 10,018,490 +1,759,546 +21%
3. App_2_142598042438818_9416 Celebrity Birthdays 1,417,117 +982,488 +226%
4. App_2_51254684277_9914 Friend Facts™ 1,530,742 +760,181 +99%
5. Original Texas HoldEm Poker 34,569,260 +677,139 +2%
6. Original Causes 17,819,976 +656,576 +4%
7. Original Phrases 33,505,050 +649,658 +2%
8. Original Happy Pets 8,522,499 +574,796 +7%
9. Original Happy Aquarium 11,712,980 +497,885 +4%
10. Original YoVille 7,893,007 +434,498 +6%
11. App_2_138575656172984_7917 Madden NFL Superstars 683,369 +391,974 +135%
12. App_2_122353571139137_4163 The Price Is Right Game 2,203,909 +382,956 +21%
13. Original Frases Diarias 5,249,232 +381,051 +8%
14. Original BandPage by RootMusic 4,116,770 +363,872 +10%
15. Original Give Hearts 8,841,484 +358,216 +4%
16. Original MMA Pro Fighter 2,873,632 +342,976 +14%
17. Original Millionaire City 7,431,420 +328,187 +5%
18. Original Ikariam – The free browser game 989,055 +323,598 +49%
19. App_2_144320435592910_7250 Critter Island 810,404 +268,035 +49%
20. Original Zoosk 6,499,719 +218,189 +3%

Of course, Quiz Planet is by one of Playdom’s major rivals, CrowdStar. Note that CrowdStar also has its games Happy Pets and Happy Aquarium on the list, while its new title It Girl appears to be taking off; it’s possible that CrowdStar is doing an across-the-board push for all of its apps. We’ll look more deeply into the games this morning over at Inside Social Games.

Celebrity Birthdays comes up in third place with a gain of almost a million new MAU. The app looks to have ended its practice of auto-posting to user’s walls, which we noted last year, and has begun monetizing with LifeStreet ads at the top.

Friend Facts™, at number four, is the latest friend quiz to appear; further down, Phrases has just become the third-largest app on Facebook by MAU, with user-generated quizzes and quote collections in multiple languages.

The last app we’ll point out is BandPage by RootMusic, which is trying to create a customizable MySpace-style experience for bands on Facebook. After we profiled BandPage in early August, its MAU growth flattened out, but now it appears to be on its way up again.

What Zynga’s Switch to Credits Means for the Facebook Ecosystem

Last week, Facebook and Zynga announced that Zynga is now using Credits as the exclusive direct payment method for its premium virtual currencies in its games running on Facebook. While you can still get “Farm Cash” and other premium currencies in Zynga games through some alternative payment methods, like Zynga’s prepaid cards or a variety of offers and other methods provided by Offerpal, the only way to buy premium currency directly any more is through Facebook Credits. In other words, while Zynga used to process these direct credit card payments using its own merchant infrastructure, Facebook is now the merchant of record for all Zynga direct in-game purchases inside Facebook.com.

Given how long the Facebook Credits rollout has taken over the last year, the migration of Zynga, the largest developer on Facebook, to Credits is a significant moment in the evolution of the Platform. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg spoke to us earlier this year about wanting to create a “level playing field” for new social game developers on the Facebook Platform through a platform-level universal virtual currency: “If Zynga or any one player can allow cross payments within their games, but that doesn’t extend to other games, then that ends up being a big barrier to entry for other startups. Making it so that there is one currency that people can take everywhere levels the playing field a bit, which is good,” Zuckerberg said. In a world with universal Credits, small developers will no longer partner with payment service aggregators – Facebook is now the aggregator itself.

By pushing developers to adopt Credits, Facebook has shifted the dynamics of the virtual goods value chain, thereby lessening some of the barriers to entry that the largest developers on the Facebook Platform – including Zynga, who is by far the largest by any public traffic measure – have built. Of course, that hasn’t come without some drama around the natural power struggle between the platform operator and the largest developers building on it: developers must now adjust to different dynamics on the Platform given some of the intrinsic limitations of switching to a universal currency and the fees associated with Credits.

In the short term, Zynga’s switch, along with other large developers making the switch this fall, will dramatically increase the liquidity of Facebook Credits. Few other events could accelerate the spread of Credits like Zynga’s migration. Soon, millions more Facebook users will have Credits balances in their account, making it much more frictionless for them to spend money in any game or application on the Facebook Platform. That means developers that have integrated Credits should see higher paying player conversion rates over the coming weeks and months.

In the long term, switching to Credits is obviously a major event in the course of Zynga’s history and future. Starting now, Zynga will no longer be able to leverage some of the efficiencies it had built through establishing millions of direct customer billing relationships with Facebook users in the same ways that it has been doing over the last few years. However, it can still communicate with those users directly through email, and drive them to other distribution channels, like FarmVille.com, in order to accept credit card payments directly if it wants to.

Although large developers still enjoy many advantages of scale, not the least of which is their ability to drive significant cross promotions and optimize revenues more powerfully across a broader portfolio of games, building custom innovations in the payments layer will soon no longer be one of them in the same way it has been – though much of the operational infrastructure around customer support and security will still continue to be vital.

To dig deeper on social gaming ecosystem dynamics on the Facebook Platform, see our Inside Virtual Goods: The Future of Social Gaming 2010 report.

This Week’s Headlines on Inside Social Games

ISG LogoCheck out the top headlines and insights this week from Inside Social Games – tracking all the latest developments at the intersection of games and social platforms.

Monday, September 13th, 2010

Tuesday, September 14th, 2010

Wednesday, September 15th, 2010

Thursday, September 16th, 2010

Friday, September 17th, 2010

“Explore Facebook” Guides Users through Mobile, Questions, Places and other Key Products

Explore Facebook”  is a new interface for explaining core Facebook features, that compiles introduction pages within a main navigation bar to guide users through new and expanding ways to use the service.

Facebook’s long-time  mobile site is joined by splash pages for Badges, Chat, Places, and Questions. Each page explains the features, provides links to additional information and bug reporting, and in some cases indicate whether you have access yet. As Facebook grow beyond its core feature set, it’s important that it has an area to help users get more familiar with the different products.

When visiting any of the feature home pages, users will see the Explore Facebook navigation bar at the top. Many of the pages’ URLs include the term “Site Tour”, which might be related to the old but still accessible Guide To The Facebook Home Page — this interface is more visual and easier to learn from.

The following are the different pages currently included in the Explore Facebook bar:

Mobile provides users with how Facebook can interact with their mobile device. It includes a custom email address to which users can send content to be uploaded to their profile without using a mobile browser. Users can also set up SMS notifications and find links to download their device’s Facebook app.

Badges provides users with embed codes which can be used to show parts of their Facebook profiles elsewhere on the web. Users can copy codes for profile, Like, photo, and Page badges in versions optimized for Blogger and Typepad, or a general version.

Chat offers links to Pidgin, Adium, and iChat clients which work with Facebook Chat. Users can also copy domain, server, and Jabber ID specifications which can be used to create a Facebook Chat account on other instant messaging services.

Places explains Facebook’s location service’s uses, shows a selection of friends who are using Places, and provides links to an FAQ and Places privacy controls. At the bottom users can see which mobile devices support Places, and whether their country currently has access.

Questions shows a stream of recent Questions, explains how to ask and answer Questions, and even lets users ask Questions — if they currently have access. Those to which the feature is yet to be rolled out see a description of when they’ll receive access, such as “Facebook Questions will be available to everyone in the US within the next few weeks, so please check back.”

In the future, we expect other Facebook product splash pages to appear in the bar as well, like the one for Credits.

Facebook Roundup: Microsoft, Google, Politics, Diaspora, Photos, Data Center, Mobile, Places and Much More

Facebook Growing as Video Referral Agent – Facebook is quickly growing as the top source of video referrals. Google accounts for 64% of these, Yahoo 11.9% and Facebook at 4.3%. The referral traffic for Facebook is growing an average of 48% a month.

Diaspora, Facebook Alternative, Out – Diaspora, the purported alternative to Facebook we previously wrote about, released its first batch of source code this week. The company made sure to note the caveat that Diaspora is a work in progress, as others observed.

Facebook Is Spending $50M on Data Centers – Facebook spends about $50 million a year leasing data center space, according to Data Center Knowledge. The $180-215 million Prineville, Ore. data center the company is building will allow them to reduce those expenses.

Facebook Hires Google Ad Exec – This week Facebook hired Emily White, formerly an ad sales and operations executive at Google.

DST Changes Name to Mail.Ru Group – The Russian Facebook investor Digital Sky Technologies (DST) changed its name to Mail.ru Group.

Facebook, Microsoft May Up the Ante - Facebook and Microsoft are contemplating tightening their business collaboration, according to AllThingsD. Specifically, this new agreement would allow for Microsoft’s Bing search engine to “mine anonimized data from consumer usage of the social networking site’s recently introduced Like buttons.”

More Facebook Fans May Help Politicos Win?CNN stopped short of making a causal connection between having more fans on Facebook and winning elections after this week’s primary elections, barely. In elections around the country, those candidates with more Facebook fans beat out candidates who didn’t have as many, it noted in a report. We’ve written about Facebook’s role in elections worldwide and in the U.S. previously, but it seems logical that the more popular candidate is more likely to win an election, and popularity these days is likely to mean a greater number of Facebook fans. It’s not yet clear if Facebook helps candidates win, or if popular or media-savvy candidates just happen to get big on Facebook as part of their surge to victory, or if there’s some other combination of explanations.

Appbistro Steps in Where Facebook Left Off with Places – Facebook’s Places location service launched recently but still has a long way to go, so, Appbistro has stepped in to help. The Facebook app marketplace has created a new section for apps using Places, something TechCrunch points out is still not available in the official Facebook app directory.

Facebook iPad App Coming Soon – The makers of an unofficial iPad Facebook app, Oecoway, told Business Insider that the official Facebook app was coming soon.

Nokia Integrates Facebook – Nokia announced a Facebook integration with its new version of Ovi Maps software built into every phone. The Check-in service supports Facebook Places, but not Foursquare.

Places Didn’t Cause Burglaries – Unsurprisingly, Jeff Jarvis’ look into whether Places actually caused or had anything to do with burglaries this week revealed that it did not. Turns out of two Facebook-related crimes, the perpetrators were Facebook friends with the victims and thus had access to tons of personal information, so Places had no bearing on the burglaries at all — the real-life friendships did.

Facebook Testing New Search – Facebook is currently testing an unfiltered version of its search, with zero filters.

BranchOut Raises $6M – Branchout, a career app we wrote about previously, raised $6 million from Accel Partners this week.

Get Satisfaction Raises $6M – Get Satisfaction, a customer service startup, raised $6 million in Series A funding this week, from Azure Capital Partners, O’Reilly AlphaTech Ventures and First Round Capital.

Facebook Prompts Photo Tags – Facebook is now prompting users to tag people as they browse photos on the site.

Hunch Launches Facebook Game – Hunch, which provides users with recommendations on a variety of things, launched a Facebook game which guesses your answers to questions on a variety of topics with scary accuracy.

Analyze Your Post Metrics with Status Analyzer – A new app allows users to analyze their post metrics by finding out how much their friends are interacting with their posts. After installing the app users are presented with a graph that shows them how many updates they’ve posted, how many were commented upon, the number of comments, the number of updates liked and how many updates were ignored and an average number of reactions per update.

More Facebook Founding Fodder – There was some more Facebook founding-related revelations this week. In a New Yorker interview, CEO Mark Zuckerberg admitted to having called mocked the first Harvard University users of what would eventually become Facebook for trusting him with their information. The Winklevoss twins who sued Zuckerberg, responded to the profile and the upcoming film.

The Social Network Getting Strong Reviews – However exaggerated the unauthorized movie is, critics are loving it — if for the quality of the storytelling, if nothing else. The latest reviewer, Caroline McCathy at CNET, notes the parallels between the plot and classic archetypes: “So we have our creation myth, one about a company that continues to rapidly grow and change and alter the world around it while still generating an unheard-of sense of permanence and public narrative. And we have our Hermes in Zuckerberg….” The movie comes to theaters on October 1st.

GM’s OnStar Facebook App Launches – We wrote earlier about General Motors’ plans for a Facebook integration allowing owners of cars with the OnStar service to update statuses and messages with voice commands. The integration is now becoming available, although no word on whether it will include Places or other interesting potential integrations.

Facebook Proposes Minor Changes to Its Governing Documents

Facebook has just posted a proposed set of changes to its governing documents for Facebook users to comment on. The changes focus on restricting the transfer of user data when application developers merge or are acquired, making application privacy policies more easily accessible, and allowing users to control how their names and pictures are used commercially.

Most of the points have appeared in various Facebook policy documents already, especially its developer policies, or are intended to reflect past upgrades to existing products. Overall, the change today show that the company is trying to communicate a clear and uniform set of rules, rather push a major shift versus what it has already been doing.

Additional points addressed in the changes include notifying advertisers that ads won’t always reach their intended targets, allowing Facebook to require third-party developers to delete user data if it’s misused, requiring users to comply with all applicable laws, and bringing social plugins under the definition of Facebook. Governing documents would also now be available in many different languages, but the English version would control if there are inconsistencies.

We’ll examine them in more detail below. Note that the comment period is open from now until 5:00 PM PDT on September 23, 2010, and the changes will go to a vote if they receive more than 7,000 comments.

Facebook developed the “notice and comment” system for changing its governing documents in February of 2009, and held its first vote in April of 2009. Changes are announced, immediately beginning a 7 day comment period. If more than 7,000 comments are received, the changes go to a vote where users may be proposed alternative changes in addition to option to vote up or down. If more than 30% of Facebook’s monthly active users support the changes, they become binding, and if less than 30% support the changes become “advisory” (i.e. non-binding). Voting takes place through the Wildfire voting and app and results are independently audited by accountancy firm Ernst & Young.

To date there have only been 134 comments with just over six days left in the comment period.

The following are the proposed changes to the governing documents (in bold), and our commentary of what they respond to and how they’ll affect Facebook (in brackets):

This agreement was written in English (US). To the extent any translated version of this agreement conflicts with the English version, the English version controls.

[This prevents inaccurate translation from altering the documents.]

9. Special Provisions Applicable to Developers/Operators of Applications and Websites
If you are a developer or operator of a Platform application or website, the following additional terms apply to you:

2. You will have a privacy policy that tells users what user data you are going to use and how you will use, display, share, or transfer that data and you will include your privacy policy URL in the Developer Application.

[This ensures applications have a privacy policy in place upon launch. Facebook has required similar sorts of disclosures before, but the wording here requires more specific compliance.]

7. You will not sell user data.  If you are acquired by or merge with a third party, you can continue to use user data within your application, but you cannot transfer user data  outside of your application.

[Facebook has similar wording in its policies already, notably via a May update to its developer policies, although this more clearly restricts how acquiring companies use data that they gain from purchased companies.]

8. We can require you to delete user data if you use it in a way that we determine is inconsistent with users’ expectations.

[Along with being able to turn off a developer’s access to the Facebook Platform, Facebook enforcement methods for sanctioning misuse of data include the ability to force developers to delete user data. Facebook has also had similar wording around this in its developer policies.]

10. About Advertisements and Other Commercial Content Served or Enhanced by Facebook on Facebook

1. You can use your privacy settings to limit how your name and profile picture may be associated with commercial, or sponsored, or related content (such as a brand you like) served or enhanced by us. You give us permission to use your name and profile picture in connection with that content, subject to the limits you place.

[By giving users the power to control how their names and likenesses are used by brands they like, Facebook protects itself from lawsuits that accuse it of facilitating the exploitation of minors by advertisers when a minor Likes a brand or ad and is then shown as associated with the brand in social context ads and news feed stories.]

11. Special Provisions Applicable to Advertisers
1. When you place an Order, you will tell us the type of advertising you want to buy, the amount you want to spend, and your bid. If we accept your Order, we will deliver your ads as inventory becomes available. When serving your ad, we do our best to deliver the ads to the audience you specify, although we cannot guarantee in every instance that your ad will reach its intended target.

[This protects Facebook from advertisers who complain that users who lie about their age or other data used in ad targeting are causing ads to not be shown to the audience the advertiser paid for. The wording here helps protect Facebook against clients upset by incorrectly targeted ads.]

2. In instances where we believe doing so will enhance the effectiveness of your advertising campaign, we may broaden the targeting criteria you specify.

[This brings the option in the Facebook Ads Manager to show ads to users just outside an ad’s parameters into the governing documents.]

17. Definitions
1. By “Facebook” we mean the features and services we make available, including through (a) our website at www.facebook.com and any other Facebook branded or co-branded websites (including sub-domains, international versions, widgets, and mobile versions); (b) our Platform; (c) social plugins such as the like button, the share button and other similar offerings and (d) other media, software (such as a toolbar), devices, or networks now existing or later developed.

[This applies any rules and policies of “Facebook” to social plugins as well.]

18. Other
10. You will comply with all applicable laws when using or accessing Facebook.

[Users must comply with local laws when using Facebook. The company has had similar wording already.]

To access the Statement of Rights and Responsibilities in several different languages, change the language setting for your Facebook session by clicking on the language link in the left corner of most pages. If the Statement is not available in the language you select, we will default to the English version.

[Governing documents are now available in languages other than English, French, Italian, German, and Spanish.]

Facebook Lets You Mark Friend Requests with “Not Now,” then Decide on Them Later

Facebook is adding a new option to how people friend each other, trying to limit unwanted social behavior.

Now, when someone adds you as a friend, you can mark “Not Now,” thereby relegating their request to a separate menu called “Hidden Requests.” You can then confirm the person later in this menu, if you want, and in the meantime they’ll just see that they’re “awaiting friend confirmation” from you in the interface. Just as when you choose to not accept a friend request, they will not be notified when you give them this new designation.

Facebook says it is also trying to refine how it prohibits overly aggressive friending through the feature. If you hide then delete a request, you’ll have the option to mark that you don’t know the person. This will block that person from trying to friend you in the future.

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