Facebook partners with mobile billing provider Bango

U.K. mobile billing and analytics provider Bango announced today it signed a deal “to provide payment services to Facebook.”

The arrangement could be part of an upcoming effort to monetize Facebook’s mobile platform. The social network has 425 million monthly active mobile users but so far does not generate “meaningful” revenue from this area, according to its filing for an initial public offering. Facebook might have tapped Bango to help it process payments for apps, virtual goods or other mobile transactions.

Bango did not reveal the terms of the agreement. Facebook, which is in a mandated “quiet period” after filing for an IPO, did not comment on the partnership.

Bango provides carrier-billing services for Research in Motion and Opera’s app stores. This means mobile users are able to pay for purchases on their phone bills rather than a credit card. Many expect the company will to do the same for Amazon’s App Store for Android, following news of a partnership in December 2011.

Facebook opened its mobile platform to third-party developers in October 2011. It currently uses Boku to process mobile phone payments in HTML5 games like CityVille. This is only possible in the mobile web version of Facebook, not native applications because Apple and Android take 30 percent of in-app transactions on their platforms.

The Financial Times notes that Bango is aligned with Facebook’s movement toward a browser-based mobile platform. Following rumors of Facebook’s “Project Spartan” in June 2011, Bango CEO Ray Anderson wrote:

Bango technology has been optimized for browser deployment, and we see the browser as a great platform to enable truly explosive growth of mobile by making apps less dependent on the handset operating system. If you want to share an app or service with others, it makes more sense to mail or tweet out a link to a web app than to try to get your friends to download apps! It seems like Facebook may have the same vision [...]

Facebook Roundup: Project Spartan, Lamebook, Privacy Comments, Patents, Bug Bounty, Privacy, Ads and More

More Info on Facebook’s Spartan – TechCrunch reported more information about BoltJS, a UI framework designed by Facebook and written in JavaScript that runs in the browser. Apparently it’s part of Facebook’s Project Spartan, which may not be fully revealed until f8.

Facebook Settles With Lamebook – Lamebook, a humor site publishing funny Facebook posts, and Facebook settled this week. The judge refused to move the suit to California, and thus, some speculate that Facebook settled to avoid jury sympathy for the Austin-based company.

Facebook Extends Comment Period – Facebook extended the comment period for its new privacy policy to 5 p.m. Pacific on September 7. Comments may be left at Facebook’s Site Governance Page.

Facebook Testing Comment Ordering? – AllFacebook reported that Facebook seems to be testing a way for Page admins to order comments based on social ranking, chronology or reverse chronology. [Image via AllFacebook]

Facebook Pays $40,000 in Bounty Program – Facebook’s Bug Bounty program has, thus far, paid out $40,000 to people around the world who have reported issues to the company. Chief Security Officer Joe Sullivan wrote a blog about the program this week with more information.

Interesting Insights on Facebook Ads – SocialCode reported some interesting trends about Facebook ads, including: women are 11% more likely to click, older women are more likely to click through and men are slightly more likely to Like an ad.

HTML5 Mobile App Allows for Connect – Nitobi, creators of PhoneGap, launched a new plugin, PhoneGap Facebook Connect. Essentially it allows users to login to HTML and JavaScript apps with their Facebook login.

Social Networks and Patents – Business Week published an interesting story examining the lack of a “patent war” when it comes to social media companies like Facebook and Twitter. One reason the magazine speculated, is that Facebook (for example) only holds 12 patents, which is to say, there aren’t as many patents to fight over.

Facebook Developer Blog: Fluid Canvas – Facebook’s Developer blog posted this week about how to build an app on Facebook with Fluid Canvas, to expand the size of apps, depending on a user’s screen resolution.

Other Announcements:

Appbistro Announces PPI Ads for Page Apps – Appbistro announced that the company now installs apps for Page admins, thus the company has seen a 190% increase in installs, recently hitting 100,000 registered Page admins.

Vitrue Releases SaaS 3.0 – Vitrue released version 3.0 of its social media platform, which includes new localization features, analytics and metrics.

Hootsuite Deepens Facebook Integration – AllFacebook reports that HootSuite has deepened its Facebook integration, specifically adding events, photos, groups, and geo-tool updates.

15% of Posts are Likejacked – Norton’s analysis of 3.5 million video posts in August found that 15% were scams, or like jacking. Norton Safe Web for Facebook is an app that may guard against this type of attack.

Facebook Hires Engineers, Licenses Patents From Scrapped Facebook Browser Client Wowd

Facebook desktop and web client developer Wowd has shut down after failing to gain traction, AllThingsD reports. Facebook has hired seven of its former engineers, while several other engineers and Wowd’s founder will form mobile startup called Jildy. Facebook and Jildy have both also licensed several Wowd patents, including ones for social search page ranking and a distributed file system that were bought at the last minute by an unnamed publicly traded company that will honor the deals.

We covered the launch of Wowd’s desktop client back in August 2010. The product sought to allows to create custom news feeds based search parameters or characteristics such as “infrequent posters”. It also looked to offer a way to hide game spam, or view all game-related posts in one feed.

However, the relatively inaccessible nature of desktop software, the launch of social browser RockMelt, improved feed filtering options on Facebook.com, and a significant change to the news feed that kept game spam out of the feeds of non-gamers prevented Wowd from gaining traction. Four months later when it launched a web version, the desktop software had only racked up 500,000 total users and 70,000 daily active users, indicating there wasn’t a massive demand for its Facebook client.

AllThingsD has also gotten the details on what’s happening now. Wowd’s products are no longer available and the company has shut down, bringing the $5 million it raised from Draper Fisher Jurvetson, KPG Ventures and Stanford University with it. And, CEO Mark Drummond says that by the end it only had “a few million users” and “we weren’t growing fast enough.”

Seven of its Serbian engineers will be moving to California to join Facebook, however, the report says. There they might apply their knowledge of content filtering to improve Facebook’s news feed algorithm EdgeRank, or the page ranking of its internal search engine. Drummond and five other Wowd engineers will go on to build Jildy, a mobile app that filters social data.

Wowd applied for several fast track patents in October that were issued on May 11th. It agreed to license these to Facebook and Jildy. When a unnamed company heard this news it purchased the patents from Wowd, but the licensing deals will go on.

One social search patent analyzes a user’s identity and filter results based on what similar users clicked. Facebook could use this to improve relevance of its internal search results. For instance, a search for a specific location of a national chain of restaurants could rank highest the Facebook Page most often clicked by others from the same city. Similar filtering could be done by age, spoken language, or education history.

The other patent for a distributed file system that can communicate between instances of desktop software fast enough to permit real-time searches. Facebook could use this technology to link instances of software being designed by its Seattle-based desktop software team. It could also prevent scaling issues in the even of data center failures.

Though 15 other Wowd engineers are now out of a job, the outcome of the company’s demise is relatively positive. Nearly half the company already have new jobs, some at Facebook, and the patent licenses should earn some money for Wowd’s former team. Facebook will benefit from this new talent and technology, and RockMelt is now left as the only serious Facebook desktop client.

Facebook and LinkedIn Block Apps TOS-Violating Browser Extension and Apps

Late last week, a Google Chrome browser extension called Facebook Friend Exporter received a flood of new interest as Google+ users looked for a way to import their Facebook friends into Google’s social network, Circles. However, since the app collects contact information from Facebook, it violate’s the site’s terms of service, and Facebook implemented a throttling mechanism that prevents it from scraping email addresses.

LinkedIn also blocked two Facebook professional networking apps: BranchOut for trying to profit from pulling in LinkedIn profile data into an enterprise recruiting search tool,and Monster’s BeKnown for sending promotional messages through LinkedIn’s messages API. These are the latest examples of long-running issues with platform owners and developers both trying to provide the same value to users and customers.

Facebook Prohibits Data Scrapers

The Facebook Friend Exporter was originally released by open source software developer, Mohamed Mansour, in November 2010. Similar to some other Facebook-altering browser extensions such as Better Facebook that violate the terms of service, the extension was ignored by Facebook until it received too much attention and was perceived as a threat to the company’s efforts to control core value, this time in the form of its user growth and retention.

Facebook Friend Exporter scrapes the email addresses and other contact info of a user’s friends, and allows them to be downloaded as a Google Contacts or .csv file that could then be imported into Gmail, allowing users to more easily recreate their Facebook social graph on Google Circles. This violates section 3.2 of the TOS that states “You will not collect users’ content or information, or otherwise access Facebook, using automated means (such as harvesting bots, robots, spiders, or scrapers) without our permission.”

In a past spat with Google over data portability, Facebook has claimed that users don’t own the email addresses of friends, and therefore may not export them .The social graphs it holds for users are Facebook’s most valuable asset and its core advantage over Google+, so allowing these graphs to be scraped and imported into Circles represented a clear threat to Facebook.

Facebook Friend Exporter’s download site now says it has 22,414 users, with 22,092 installing the extension in the last week. This spike in usage and press about the extension alerted Facebook to it, leading it to alter its mobile site the email addresses of friends disappear from their profiles if a user’s account quickly views the profiles of more than five friends. This prevents the extension from scraping a user’s entire friend list.

Mansour claims a new version that circumvents Facebook’s blocking mechanism on the way. Users should install Facebook Friend Exporter at their own risk, as its usage could constitute a TOS violation that could lead a user’s account to be suspended.

Update: As our commenter Jan notes, scrapers of this nature also create data security risks for users. If scrapers like Facebook Friend Exporter was allowed, hackers who gain access to a user’s account could steal the email addresses of all their friends. Developer of such plugins could also be collecting any of the scraped email addresses. Therefore, blocking access to these types of scrapers is not only good for Facebook in a competitive sense, but it also protects users.

LinkedIn Moves Against Facebook-Based Competitors

Over the past month, professional networking Facebook app BranchOut saw a spike in usage grow it to 250,000 daily active users, and job posting site Monster.com launched its own Facebook app for professional networking called BeKnown. Both apps allowed users to import their work history and other profile data from LinkedIn, and BeKnown let users send invites via the LinkedIn messages API.

BranchOut plans to release a premium enterprise recruiting search tool on August 1st that would allow the company to charge recruiters to search for job candidates by BranchOut profile information, including that pulled from LinkedIn. This violates LinkedIn’s terms of service, which prohibit the licensing or reselling of access to LinkedIn data. Therefore, LinkedIn has blocked BranchOut’s ability to import profile data.

However, BranchOut has responded stating that “Changes to the LinkedIn API have little impact on the BranchOut experience, as it was only being used by a small fraction of our users.”

BeKnown’s app also imported LinkedIn data, building the value of the product that Monster clients could have their job listings posted it. The app also sent promotional messages through the LinkedIn API, violating that site’s TOS. Both profile importation and messaging has now been blocked by LinkedIn.

Monster has responded saying “We are surprised and disappointed by LinkedIn’s decision, which we believe not only goes against the interests of LinkedIn users, but also contradicts what LinkedIn claims to stand for – openness and connectivity.”  BeKnown is urging users to leave comments of support on a post it made to the LinkedIn developer forum asking access to be reinstated. BeKnown may be more vulnerable than BranchOut to the API block because the fledgling, 10,000 DAU app was using LinkedIn messages to grow.

The blocking of apps by Facebook and LinkedIn is a sign of the growing pains of social platforms that with time have built valuable collections of user data. There’s a fine balance between promoting innovation and giving away competitive advantage. Developers should expect the platforms to protect themselves, and should know that just because they aren’t shut down immediately doesn’t mean their data usage has been approved. While there are monetary and philosophical rewards for operating in the gray area, there’s also great potential for loss of development resources.

RockMelt Raises $30 Million Following Facebook Partnership

RockMelt has upped its bet that there’s a market for social web browsers, announcing a $30 million second round of funding from an all-star list of past and new investors. This comes two weeks after the company launched a version of its browser that tightly integrates with Facebook, thanks to a partnership between the two companies.

However, RockMelt doesn’t have that many users yet. On Facebook, for example, we count 384,000 monthly active users, with slightly under half of those currently coming back every day, according to our AppData tracking service. You can see a spike in users following the June 14th announcement of RockMelt’s official partnership with Facebook, though the daily active user count has dropped back to the pre-announcement level.

So, it’s the engagement of its current users that’s interesting, and that’s what investor Ben Horowitz of Andreessen Horowitz stresses in a blog post on the funding today, via the stats below.

  • Over 6 hours of use per person per day
  • Average of 3 chat conversations per user through RockMelt each day
  • 60% of users 35 and under are active chatters, and they each send an average of 65 messages every day and 71% of the youngest cohort use chat.
  • Average of 20 uses of the information flow features per person per day
  • 80% of searches go through the browser’s search interface rather than a search site
  • 56% of users are age 24 and under, 80% under 35.

Horowitz’s partner is not coincidentally Marc Andreessen, cofounder of seminal browser company Netscape, and a Facebook board member. The firm backed RockMelt already in its first round, and participated in this one. It is another Facebook board member, Jim Breyer, who helped lead this new round on behalf of his firm, Accel Partners, and he’ll be joining RockMelt’s board. Legendary investor Vinod Khosla is also joining the board, with his Khosla Ventures also leading the round.

With all this funding, and a tight partnership with the largest social network in the world, we expect to see RockMelt advertising itself more heavily on Facebook and off. Not unlike what Google has successfully been able to do by promoting Chrome across search and its other properties, as well as through traditional ads.

Facebook Partners With RockMelt to Outsource Development of Social Web Browser

Third-party social web browser developer RockMelt announced today that it has established a long-term partnership with Facebook’s engineering and design teams to build the newly released RockMelt Beta 3 and future products. Along with an improved Chat and integrated Notifications, Requests, and Messages experience, Facebook.com appears differently when browsed through the new version of RockMelt, with elements including Chat and alerts hidden from view since they appear in the browser.

The partnership with the 40-employee RockMelt will allow Facebook to guide the development of a web browser without expending nearly as many resources as would have taken to release one itself. It could also lend legitimacy to RockMelt, which says it has only had 1 million people try its product to date, though its few hundred thousand active users log an average of 6.5 hours a day on the product.

Six months ago RockMelt launched the private beta of its social web browser, designed to pull frequently used parts of Facebook, Twitter, and blogs inside the browser chrome. Beta2 saw the addition of multi-friend Chat support, further updates allow it to pull in data from YouTube and RSS, and the public beta launched 10 weeks ago.

User adoption of the Andressen-Horowitz-backed project or other social browsers such as Wowd has yet to explode. Still, founders Eric Vishria and Tim Howes are optimistic. “Over 500 million people have switched browsers in the last three years,” they told us. “81% of our users are 34 or younger. For those in the social generation, it just makes sense. Conversion rates and retention are high. They just get it.”

A deeper integration with Facebook offering unique value could kickstart growth.”There’s no way this release would happen without them,” Vishria and Howes told us. “We’re interacting with them five times a day to get this done.” Though Facebook is hiring for a Seattle-based desktop software team, RockMelt said it was working with a Palo Alto team from Facebook headquarters. This may support our prediction that Facebook’s desktop team isn’t building a browser, but instead software such as media usage scrobbling widgets that will help users share their music listening and video watching habits.

RockMelt Beta3′s New Features

Downloadable starting at 10am PST today, RockMelt Beta3 features several new features that allow browser chrome customization and streamline social experiences. Users can now swap the dock-like App Edge and the buddy list-esque Friend Edge between the left and right rails of the browser. The Friend Edge can be clicked to expand and show the names of friends instead of just their profile pictures, which can be hard to identify.

When a friend in the Friend Edge is clicked, it starts a Facebook Chat with them that automatically imports your Chat history. RockMelt Beta3 works with Facebook’s unified messaging product to seamlessly switch from Messages to Chat if a friend is online. A user’s Notifications, Requests, and Messages all appear in the top center of the chrome with counters denoting new activity.

Perhaps most interesting though is what Facebook’s team has done to change Facebook.com when visited through RockMelt. Rather than appear redundant, a user’s Chat buddy list and alerts don’t appear on the site, only in the browser. Clicking within Facebook to initiate a Chat opens the Chat in RockMelt instead, so users can carry on the conversation even as they browse other sites.

Outsourcing the Facebook Browser

Vishria and Howes tell us RockMelt Beta3 is “the beginning of what the modern browser looks like”. They say there’s many more social features to build out as part of the Facebook partnership, including “creating an unbelievable photo experience, Places, Like integrations — we’re constantly brainstorming and collaborating.” The companies may have been connected by Marc Andressen, both a Facebook board member and a core RockMelt investor who believes RockMelt could be the fifth browser to reach over 100 million users.

RockMelt’s 40-person engineering and design-focused team builds on Google’s Chromium open source browser which has 200 devs, which is turn built on WebKit that has its own army of open source devs. Without an overwhelming user demand for social browsers, developing one internally could be a strategic misstep for Facebook, but working with RockMelt might accomplish similar goals much more efficiently. This way, Facebook can work on more crucial or unexpected projects while still keeping its small size and startup culture.

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