Facebook Launches a Recommendations Bar to Keep Users Reading on Sites

Building off the now-common Like button that it launched last year, Facebook is introducing a new social plugin today called the Recommendations Bar. It’s designed to deliver additional recommended articles to readers right as they finish each article.

While Facebook’s recommendations box plugin has already driven this behavior, there has not been a slick interface to help readers move to a new recommended story once they finish the first recommended one. In most implementations to date, the user has to click back to find more stories in the recommendations box.

The new plugin, at least as it was presented at f8 (it’s not live), resides at the lower right corner of each browser window of a page that has the plugin installed. It floats down as users scroll, basically like how other toolbars work. When a user first loads a page — say, an article on CNN — the bar is collapsed and only shows the option to Like the page. But as the user spends more time reading the article and scrolling down, the plugin will expand and show additional articles to read on the site based on the criteria below.

The expanded view also shows an “Add to Timeline” button. If the user clicks on it, the story will be shared back to Facebook and placed within the (new) Timeline profile. Although it might not be obvious to the user at the time, they are also enabling the plugin to share a “read” action back to Facebook every time in the future that the plugin is activated on that particular site.

That seems like it could upset users who don’t realize or remember enabling auto-sharing. But they can either turn off the feature by clicking again on the “Add to Timeline” button on the bar, or by adjusting their privacy settings on their home site, Faceboook product manager Austin Haugen said during a presentation at f8 on the feature.

As the Facebook documentation outlines below, developers have the following options for defining exactly when the plugin bar will expand:

  • onvisible - the plugin is expanded when a user scrolls past the exact point where the <fb:recommendations-bar /> tag is placed on the page. This is the simplest option and will work best if you place the tag right at the end of your article’s main content. This is the default.
  • X% - where X is any positive integer less than or equal to 100. This specifies the percent of the page the user must scroll down before the plugin is expanded. For example: 100% would indicate that a user needs to scroll all the way to the end of the page before the plugin expands. 50% would be to the mid point of the page.
  • manual - use this option to manually trigger the read action. When you want to trigger the action callFB.XFBML.RecommendationsBar.markRead(href); in JavaScript. The href parameter is optional and will default to the current page if not set. If provided, it must match the href parameter on the XFBML tag. The manual trigger is useful when you have more a multi-page article. For example on a three page article, you would addtrigger="manual" on pages one and two and never call the ‘markRead’ JavaScript function on those pages.

In addition, a read_time parameter will tell the plugin to wait a customizable number of seconds before it expands. It’s set to 30 seconds by default.

Facebook will then take all “read” stories data and figure out how to display them in users’ Timelines and in their friends’ news feeds.

Overall, the bar should help each user find more interesting stories from their friends while reading news stories on a site. For example, a user might get to the end of an article about government budget issues, and see a recommendation from a friend about a related opinion piece on the topic. The result is that the user stays on the site longer than they otherwise might, finding more useful information while bringing the site more engagement. The plugin also could generate additional traffic through the sharing back to Facebook. However, the opt-in-once aspect of the feature might surprise some users — there could be privacy issues around this, just like there was with the now-shuttered Beacon years ago.

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