Zuckerberg, Twitter, Yahoo and more in this week’s Facebook news roundup

Zuckerberg and Brin collaborate to launch Foundation – Mark Zuckerberg, Google co-founder Sergey Brin and technology investor Yuri Milner are joining forces to launch the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences, which will award 11 scientists $3 million each. The prize will spotlight outstanding minds in medicine and hopes to enhance medical innovation.

Screen Shot 2013-02-22 at 6.32.44 PM


Twitter announces Ads API – Twitter has officially launched its Ads API which it began testing last January. Marketers will be able to work with Ads API partners to manage Twitter Ad campaigns and both desktop and mobile ads. The initial partners include Adobe, Hootsuite, Salesforce, SHIFT and TBG Digital. This means advertisers will be able to buy Twitter’s promoted products in similar ways to how they purchase Facebook ads, and many Facebook Ads API companies are likely to incorporate Twitter’s Ads API in their platforms soon.

Facebook roundup: Instagram, Poke, New Year’s and more

Instagram hit with lawsuit after proposed policy changes – A class action lawsuit was filed against Instagram last Friday over breach of contract and other claims related to its proposed terms of service change. The lawsuit, filed in San Francisco federal court, says users who cancel their profile forfeit rights to photos they had previously shared on the service. ”We believe this complaint is without merit and we will fight it vigorously,” Facebook said in a statement.

Facebook files for Poke trademarks - Facebook filed for three trademarks related to its new Poke application this week. It is seeking trademarks for ‘Poke’, ‘Facebook Poke’ and the logo for the app. The company had previously held a trademark for Poke in 2006, but abandoned it in July last year.

Facebook working on security fix for Poke – Facebook says it is working on a fix for a loophole that lets users save videos that are shared through its new Poke app. The premise of the app is that messages and content are deleted within seconds of being viewed, but BuzzFeed found a way to replay and save videos by connecting an iPhone to a computer and browsing the app’s files. Facebook told the site, “We are addressing this issue now. We should have a fix pushed shortly.”

Facebook offers special New Year’s message delivery – Through its Facebook Stories website, the social network is offering “New Year’s Midnight Delivery.” Users can write messages to their friends in advance and have them delivered at midnight on New Year’s. The recipient’s time zone will be taken into account so messages appear just as a user is ringing in the new year.

Zuckerberg sister’s friends-only photo shared on Twitter – Randi Zuckerberg, sister of Mark, got some unwanted attention this week after a Twitter user publicly shared a photo meant for friends only on Facebook. The photo showed the Zuckerberg family playing with the new Poke app. Many outlets picked up on the story as a Facebook privacy blunder. Later Randi Zuckerberg tweeted, “Digital etiquette: always ask permission before posting a friend’s photo publicly. It’s not about privacy settings, it’s about human decency.”

With Twitter prepping photo filters, Instagram takes action to protect brand

Instagram made a change this weekend that prevents previews of photos posted from the app from appearing on Twitter. Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom confirmed at Le Web that this was intentional so that more users visit Instagram on the web and mobile.

“This is an evolution of just where we are and where we want links from our content to go,” Systrom said.

There is still an easy option for users to share their recent Instagram shots on Twitter, but they appear only as a link rather than as a full photo. It makes sense for Instagram to capture traffic from Twitter and bring users into its platform where they can comment, like or take other actions within its ecosystem — even if the experience is less ideal for users.

But there’s something else at play here. Twitter is rumored to be working on its own photo filtering feature. The New York Times reported this in early November and this weekend AllThingsD reported that the feature could roll out before the end of the year. [Update 12/10/12 3:25 p.m. - Twitter launched filters today.] Instagram’s moves to stop showing its photos within Twitter could be a means of brand protection. It might not want users to confuse Twitter’s stylized photos with its own hallmark of vintage-looking square photos.

For now it seems Instagram will continue to let its images appear natively within other services, giving more reason to believe the company’s issue is with Twitter because of impending competition.

“This is more of a one-off, trying to figure out specifically with our Twitter integration what it should look like,” he said at Le Web. “What we’ve decided is that now what makes sense is to direct users to our new mobile experience.”

Facebook to change ‘subscribe’ to ‘follow’

Facebook says it plans to change the wording of its “subscribe” feature to “follow,” according to an email from a company spokesperson.

Starting today, the subscribe button on the profiles of users who have enabled the option will change to “follow.” This will also apply to the subscribe button on interest lists. Facebook says all functionality will stay the same. The rewording is simply to make the feature more recognizable to users. Twitter of course popularized the use of “follow,” with many other services like Quora and Instagram also using the term.

The social network introduced subscribe for personal accounts in September 2011 to allow for asymmetric relationships between users. Similar to Twitter, people can view content in News Feed from people they don’t know but are interested in. For example, a user can subscribe to public updates from a celebrity without the celebrity needing to approve a friend request. Starting today, people will enable “followers” rather than “subscribers.”

In June, Facebook introduced an Open Graph “follow” action for developers to implement in their apps. With the feature, users can get updates about other users’ app activity within the Facebook News Feed, rather than needing to visit the app to find out about it. It makes sense for Facebook to unify its wording for apps and on-Facebook activity.

The social network has also tested a subscribe button for pages as a way for users to see content from a page within their feed without publicly “liking” it. Facebook tells us the test period of this is over and results are being evaluated. This means there isn’t currently a “follow” button on any pages, just user profiles and interest lists.

Facebook roundup: facial recognition policy, director of engineering, Twitter sync, PMD announcements and more

Facebook removes facial recognition in EU, addresses other concerns - Per recommendations from the Irish Data Protection Commissioner, which has audited Facebook policies and practices, Facebook has removed the facial recognition feature that made suggestions for who to tag in a photo. The Data Protection Commissioner says Facebook has nearly complied with all recommendations and has plans to address any remaining issues by a set deadline.

Facebook hires new director of engineering from Netflix - The former vice president of product engineering at Netflix, John Ciancutti, has joined Facebook as director of engineering, according to his LinkedIn profile. The news, first reported by AllThingsD, suggests some reorganization at Facebook. When Chief Technology Officer Bret Taylor announced his departure in June, Director of Engineering Mike Vernal and Director of Mobile Engineering Cory Ondrejka were said to be leading in his absence. Facebook has not yet announced a new CTO.

Hearsay Social brings social compliance to Salesforce - Hearsay Social this week announced Hearsay Social Cloud Compliance for Salesforce, enabling financial services, healthcare and retail organizations to use social enterprise tools in the cloud while adhering to industry regulations and corporate governance. Hearsay Social Cloud Compliance for Salesforce includes FINRA, SEC, FTC, IIROC, FSA and FDA compliance coverage across the Salesforce.com Sales Cloud, Marketing Cloud, Service Cloud and Chatter. It will be available on Salesforce.com’s AppExchange.

Facebook and other Internet companies create collective lobbying group - Facebook joins Google, eBay, Amazon.com, Zynga, Yahoo and others in a new U.S. lobbying group called The Internet Association ”dedicated to strengthening and protecting a free and innovative Internet.” The Next Web notes that Microsoft and Apple are not part of the trade association.

Facebook asks users for help identifying fake names – Some Facebook users are being prompted to let the social network know whether a friend is using a fake name. A Facebook spokesperson told The Next Web, “We are always looking to gauge how people use Facebook and represent themselves to better design our product and systems. We are showing people information that their friends have made available to them and we indicate to the person taking the survey that their response will be anonymous to ensure them that we are not sharing their data with anyone and only looking to understand the results in an aggregate sense. Additionally, it is important to understand that we will not be using this data for enforcement actions.”

Twitter prompts users to post tweets to Facebook - Some Twitter users this week saw a prompt on the homepage of Twitter.com suggesting that they connect their account with Facebook and post tweets to the social network. We wonder whether this is further evidence that a new Open Graph integration is on the way.

Optimal releases free tools for exploring Facebook keywords and topics - Social media data provider and ads performance company Optimal this week released OptimalExplorer, which creates a visual web of topic relationships on Facebook for free. The company has also opened up its Keyword Expander, which lets advertisers discover better audiences to target on Facebook, to provide users with the top 15 results for each query at no cost.

Syncapse launches Facebook ad budget calculator – Social business platform Syncapse introduced the Syncapse Ads 2013 Facebook Media Spend Calculator (Beta), a free planning tool to recommend an optimal budget mix for achieving fan communication, friends-of-fans communication and flighted campaigns. The calculator prioritizes fan communication and friends-of-fans communication as “always on” strategies but makes room for flighted campaigns surrounding a particular marketing or promotional opportunity.

Anti-Facebook social platform App.net raises more than $700K from users and developers

App.net, a paid social platform being built as an alternative to ad-supported Facebook and Twitter, surpassed its $500,000 crowdfunding goal this weekend, raising more than $700,000 from more than 10,000 backers as of Monday morning.

The project was launched by Dalton Caldwell, who previously founded photo sharing app Picplz and music streaming service imeem. App.net began as a paid service for mobile application developers to get distribution and track performance data. Caldwell has refocused App.net to become a real-time feed API & service that he promises will never monetize with ads. Instead, users and developers will pay for access. App.net’s focus on the real-time feed puts it closer to Twitter than Facebook, but Caldwell’s vision is to create a legitimate alternative to what he calls the “advertising-supported monoculture” of Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and others “vying for the opportunity to sell you/your clickstream to advertisers.”

Earlier this month Caldwell wrote an open letter to Mark Zuckerberg expressing frustration with the Facebook platform, claiming that the social network protects its advertising business at the expense of developers and users. He says Facebook tried to acquire his company after he had begun working on a service that Facebook saw as competitive to its own App Center. He also called out Twitter for pursuing an ad-supported model rather than being an open API-focused platform.

“Personally speaking, I am resolved to never write another line of code for rotten-to-the-core ‘platforms’ like Facebook or Twitter,” he wrote.

The result is a basic-looking alpha site with profiles, 256-character updates, a real-time feed and asymmetrical following structure similar to Twitter or Facebook Subscribe. The platform, which released the API less than a week ago, already supports about two dozen third-party apps for the web and mobile. For now, the community seems mostly made up of developers and other early-adopter tech types who paid $50 or $100 to support the project. There are also 60 backers who donated $1,000 to the effort.

The App.net team has a lot of work to do as far as building features and infrastructure, as well as putting together a terms of service, Caldwell acknowledges in a blog post. Perhaps the greatest challenge, however, will be determining a growth strategy. All services, but social networks in particular, are greatly defined by their early users. Few services are able to make the leap from niche community to mass user base, and the network effects of Facebook and Twitter are perhaps stronger than ever. Still, there is growing frustration and distrust among many Facebook users. Whether or not a developer-first platform can evolve into a genuine alternative to the existing social networks will be interesting to follow.

In 2010, four NYU students set out to create a nonprofit, user-owned, distributed social network called Diaspora. That effort garnered a lot of media attention and even a donation from Zuckerberg himself, but has made little dent since then. The social network’s so-called “pods” are hosted by many different individuals and institutions, with each pod operating as a personal web server. There are currently about 333,000 active Diaspora accounts, according to the site.

Facebook ads in desktop and mobile News Feed outperform Twitter promoted accounts

[Update 7/20/12 1:31 p.m. PT - An earlier version of this story said that Sponsored Stories in the Facebook feed outperformed Twitter's in-stream Promoted Tweets, however, TBG has issued a correction to its report. TBG's data comes from Promoted Accounts, which do not appear in the main Twitter feed. On desktop they appear in the sidebar and on mobile they are in the Discover tab. Twitter says clickthrough rate for its Promoted Accounts is 1 to 3 percent on desktop. TBG and Inside Facebook apologize for any confusion.]

Sponsored Stories in the Facebook mobile and desktop feed are averaging significantly higher clickthrough rates than Twitter Promoted Accounts, according to a report released today by ad optimization company TBG Digital.

Since Facebook began allowing advertisers to choose whether they want their ads to appear in the desktop News Feed or mobile feed, TBG Digital has found desktop News Feed ads have an average clickthrough rate of 0.588 percent, and mobile ads have an average CTR of 1.140 percent. Comparatively, a recent TBG study found that Twitter Promoted Accounts, which do not appear in users’ feeds, had an average CTR of 0.266 percent.

TBG attributes these differences to targeting. Facebook offers very specific demographic and interest-based targeting options. Twitter’s ads can be targeted to people based on their geographic region, mobile device and who they follow, but because profiles are not as robust as on Facebook where people ad their gender, school and work history, relationship status and other personal details, targeting options are minimal compared to Facebook.

TBG also suggests that Facebook ads could see higher clickthrough rates than Twitter ads because of the social context that is part of Sponsored Stories. Ads that appear in the Facebook News Feed on mobile or desktop include names and photos of friends who are connected to the advertiser. On Twitter, ads can show whether someone a user follows is also following the advertiser, but this is not a precondition for placement as it is on Facebook.

We’d also suggest that the larger, more visual nature of Facebook in-stream ads would be another reason why they outperform Twitter ads. Promoted Tweets are limited to 140 characters and do not include any images besides the brand’s profile photo. Sponsored Stories on Facebook include a friend’s photo and a larger advertiser logo. They can also include more copy.

Whether Facebook ads will continue to perform this well in the feed remains to be seen. New ad formats tend to see more clicks at the beginning because users haven’t seen them before and want to find out what they are. Once the novelty of Sponsored Stories in News Feed wears off, Facebook ads might not seem as effective. If they remain high, it will be a good sign for the social network’s emerging ad model.

Facebook’s traditional ads in the right-hand sidebar are increasingly ignored by users. TBG found that sidebar ads in the traditional headline/image/body copy format have an average clickthrough rate below 0.05 percent. Sponsored Stories in the sidebar performed better at about 0.075 percent CTR, but this is still well below News Feed-based ads.

TBG’s Twitter clickthrough rate is an average based on more than 24 million impressions across multiple clients and business sectors. TBG did not break down the difference between ads that appear on Twitter.com versus those that appear on mobile devices. The Facebook CTRs are based on 278 million impressions served in June.

TBG Digital also looked at a number of other trends in Facebook advertising this quarter, including how costs and clickthrough rates vary by region, business sector and Sponsored Stories versus traditional sidebar ads. The full report is available here.

Is a Twitter Open Graph app on the way?

A test application on Facebook suggests the social network may be working with Twitter on Open Graph integration that will share more of a user’s Twitter activity on Facebook Timeline.

The test app, under the alias of “Sports Betting,” uses the Open Graph action “follow.” Although other services allow following, it is primarily associated with Twitter, and Twitter is one of the few that hasn’t already released a Timeline app. Quora launched an Open Graph integration using “follow” last month. We’ve previously suggested that Twitter could benefit by integrating with Open Graph. Social sites like Pinterest, Path, Foursquare and others already do and are seeing lifts in users, referrals and sharing activity.

The Sports Betting app is being tested by Facebook product manager Austin Haugen who focuses on Timeline applications. Interestingly, Haugen used the same app to test the “listen” action for Rdio a few days before Facebook announced Open Graph apps at f8 last year. If Facebook were helping Twitter with an integration, Haugen would likely be involved, however it’s possible the “follow” action is being tested for another service, not Twitter.

[Update 6/27/12: The "follow" action we saw being tested could related to a new Open Graph built-in follow action announced today that makes it easier for people to keep tabs on the stories people tell from within an app in their News Feed, Timeline and through the notifications channel.]

In tests this week, Haugen indicated that he “followed” a number of people. Some of those people are Open Graph objects with the name “Ahimel,” which is engineering manager Alex Himel’s username for both Facebook and Twitter. These objects link off-Facebook to austinhaugen.com/opengraph/profile, which brings up a blank page. Other people that Haugen has followed using the test app include Mark Zuckerberg and a dummy profile, “Helen Diijffbgj Te.” These link to Facebook profiles.

Twitter already has a Facebook integration that lets users post tweets to their profiles and friends’ News Feeds, but it does not use the new model of sharing to Timeline, Ticker and News Feed via Open Graph actions. It also does not share retweets or @replies. An Open Graph app could help users easily share their tweets and other actions, like following or favoriting, and organize them in a box on Timeline and in News Feed aggregations. Third-party app, Twittus, already does this so it is likely that Twitter would want to have its own official version.

Twitter recently made changes to its existing cross-posting feature so that tweets shared on Facebook include more rich media, so the company is clearly interested in optimizing how its content appears on Facebook.

[Update 7/1/12: Facebook's Graph API Explorer suggests that Twitter has already defined a number of Open Graph actions, including "follow," "post" and "retweet." This is strong evidence that the company is working on a deeper Facebook integration.]

Facebook and Twitter did not offer comment on a potential partnership involving Open Graph.

Will Twitter integrate Facebook Open Graph?

Six years since Twitter founders sent the first tweet, we wonder how the microblogging network might build on Facebook’s Open Graph.

As Facebook encroaches on Twitter’s territory with the subscribe feature and interest lists, Twitter should consider ways to use Facebook’s own platform to protect itself. Early examples from Pinterest and Foursquare show how would-be competitors can benefit by embracing the social network’s tools. Likewise, a Twitter Open Graph app could improve user experience and drive traffic from Facebook back to the microblogging network.

Twitter already has an official Facebook integration that lets users post tweets to their profiles and friends’ News Feeds. It does not share retweets or @replies. An Open Graph app could leverage Ticker, allowing retweets and replies to appear in the lightweight feed and other tweets to show in News Feed. This would be similar to how Spotify publishes individual song listens to Ticker but puts stories about users listening to artists, albums and playlists in News Feed.

Twitter could also create Open Graph actions for following new users, favoriting tweets or creating public lists. Pushing these stories to Ticker would add opportunities for users on Facebook to discover content and conversations on Twitter. Pinterest, for example, says it saw 60 percent more Facebook users visiting its site after only a month of integrating Open Graph.

Open Graph integration would also give tweets a designated place on Facebook Timeline. Twittus is an unofficial app that does this (see right). As Facebook says, Timeline apps are meant to share different aspects of a user’s identity. For many users, Twitter is an important part of that identity.

Timeline provides other benefits, like summaries and navigation by date. Twitter, for example, could highlight how many tweets a person made or how many times they were retweeted in a given month. Facebook’s activity log would also make it easy for users to find past tweets — something that is incredibly tedious on Twitter, just as finding old Facebook posts used to be. (See example from Twittus below.)

Pinterest, Foursquare, Instagram, Spotify and others show that social networks can be built on top of Facebook, or at least drive traffic from Timeline apps. In these cases, Facebook has sidestepped direct competition. For example, the company has downplayed its check-in product in favor of attaching location information to all posts and providing the Places API for others to integrate. It will also eliminate its check-in deals product, leaving opportunity for Yelp and Foursquare. Facebook seems to have put its rumored mobile photos app on hold, giving Instagram room to grow. And despite predictions to the contrary last year, the company did not create its own music service but instead partnered with several others.

In recent months Facebook has been aggressive in pursuing asymmetrical relationships and interest-based connections, which is Twitter’s strength. Facebook is also courting celebrities, getting them set up with Timeline and using them to promote interest lists. The social network continues to give brands and organizations more features for customer service and promotion through pages. All of this hurts Twitter’s competitive advantage. Open Graph integration could ensure that Facebook users remain aware of Twitter and give them reasons to return.

Facebook starts verifying popular accounts

Facebook will allow a small number of public figures to verify their accounts beginning today, a spokesperson from the company confirms.

Users with verified accounts will appear more often in “People To Subscribe To” recommendations on the site, but unlike on Twitter and Google+, there will be no visual indication that a profile is official. These users will also have the option to display their more well-known pseudonyms, if applicable. For example, Curtis Jackson could choose to go by his stage name 50 Cent across the site, instead of displaying it as an alternate name as he does now. (See image below.)

Facebook says users with a large number of subscribers will see a notification to verify their accounts. Not everyone who allows subscribers will see this option, and for now, users cannot request to be verified.

What this does

For Facebook, verifying accounts seems to be about improving its recommendations systems. Recommendation modules around the site have been key to the growth of the social network’s new subscribe feature. This will ensure that Facebook is presenting users with the real profiles of people they’re in which interested.

Serving quality recommendations and being flexible about names helps Facebook compete with Twitter as a platform for asymmetrical relationships. Public figures who are known by pseudonyms will appreciate the option to display that name more prominently. A verified user’s birth name will still be shown in the About section of Timeline.

What this doesn’t do

Currently, there isn’t a way for users to definitively tell whether an account is the official profile of someone to whom they want to subscribe. There are already plenty of fake celebrity profiles on the site, and as more public figures begin to use Facebook, the number of impostors will likely increase. The company will need to do something to distinguish its verified accounts or work harder to eliminate the fakes.

Facebook didn’t offer details on how verification might affect search. Subscriber numbers do not currently seem to influence how a user is ranked in search. This is frustrating for users and could lead some people to connect with fake pages.

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