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Things They Won’t Tell You: New Facebook Policies

Dear Facebook developers, I hope you will find this post useful, cause if you’ve missed recent Facebook announcements, policy changes and end-user experience changes - you are in trouble. Just as you are, I wasn’t notified of sudden changes...

Anatoly Ropotov, Blogger

September 22, 2010

8 Min Read

[Original post could be found at http://dipinsi.de/.]

Dear Facebook developers,

I hope you will find this post useful, cause if you've missed recent Facebook announcementspolicy changes and end-user experience changes - you are in trouble. Just as you are, I wasn't notified of sudden changes, wasn't asked to provide feedback on upcoming changes and didn't get invitation for the "viral shutdown party" where all the new micro-features were announced.

The most important part of announcement was "underexposed". It's hard for me to find a proper word, summarizing how a pile of new tiny things hides the most crucial change for the distribution of apps on a platform EVER:

Users who did not install your app WILL NOT SEE feed posts (stream stories, including wall-to-wall posts) from that app. 

Reference 1: Application stories will only be shown to those who are already engaging with the application.

Reference 2: People who don't play games won't see irrelevant stories in their feed for
which they have no context.

Reference 3: In Q&A session Facebook has stated:

Q: A user of your application will not be able to share a news feed with a user who is not using the application?
A: Morgenstern: Yes. Requests and discovery stories will be the channels.

The changes to the user experience are still not live (check out updated games dashboard and requests). References to "engagement and context" are vague, so there's still hope. New policies are already live. There are no timelines provided and no updates to developer roadmap yet.

Is this the end of virality on Facebook? Yes and no. I'll try to take a deeper insight into the changes and consequences.

When Facebook announced deprecation of mini-feed stories, real-time notifications and other neat viral channels in February 2010, spammy titles stopped growing, organically growing titles started falling.

It's a natural platform cycle - when too many developers start abusing existing APIs, platform has to clean up the mess or risk with core value - user experience that is centered about updates, photos and chat. Plus Facebook wants more Ads going through their channels and with new private Ad-related APIs that was clearly one of the intentions.

Do you remember how viral channels looked earlier this year? Or how spammy was the user experience? 

  • Before you could even start the game, it was offering to send presents to friends through requests channel. Games were hiding "SKIP" and "PLAY" buttons using "grey-on-grey" tricks to force you to send present.

  • As you've clicked on anything in friend's aquarium, that friend would get no less than one instant on-screen notification stating that "your friend cares about aquarium! check out his aquarium too!" with an instant game access link.

  • Mini-feed posts were uncontrollable and an accident click on a Facebook game would lead to a profile post stating that you've played that game just now and would expose you to wrath of the boss.

  • There were more annoyances than that - apps were able to send instant on-screen notifications to dozens of friends.

  • There were good parts as well - profile boxes that got recently deprecated. Initially they were a security hole, monitoring visits to the page, but later, due to their restricted functional, they got useless. 

As more and more developers have added these things to their sacred cookbooks, overall experience got unbearable and Facebook announced a major reboot, pushing back dozens of spammy apps that got big.

What happened now?

It took months for games and companies to adapt and find a new viral eco system where they could survive (or strive!). Most of the games started to add extra value to feed posts (aka stream stories) - e.g. attaching experience, gold, or items so players will be naturally incentivized to share.  

It made games more generous to players in exchange for increased virality. Explaining things to friends also got easier: "Add me and we'll post all our awards and level up faster". Some of the games excelled in that - initially Frontierville and recently City of Wonder made a huge impact on getting news feeds overflowed with dozens, if not hundreds of collapsed posts.

These posts had REAL value to players that could be measured, e.g. content sent via 5 feed posts equal $1. There were no collapsed posts before Facebook had instant notifications, as there was no big reason to spam news feed. Turn off one channel, get shitloads of stuff in another one. It's a natural API exposure cycle.

Collapsing was an answer to a huge number of posts from the same application and now it's gone (not yet live), so only users of the application will see dozens of those posts (not yet live too).

Back to the topic of the post: "other users" can't see your cool application posts anymore. There are only 2 channels left to bring in NEW users: requests and invites. Other small things users could notice are "Likes" and upcoming "Discovery" one-liners. That's it. What's left? Ads and traffic exchange bars.

The good part is that a whole bunch of rules were rolled back, so I'll summarize what's allowed again now:


- Apps can show "send gift" screen as you open the game (again).
- Skip buttons in dialogues can be obscured again.
- Apps could preselect multiple people to share stuff again.
- Apps could use multiple communications channels again.
- Application tabs could be called "CLICK HERE" again.
- Stream.publish could auto-open again without double confirmation.
- Apps could use stream stories to invite players - this is a funny one as NON-PLAYERS (users who didn't install the app) won't be able to see them!
- Apps could phrase feed posts any way they want. No more obscure prohibition of "calls to action" in subject or body of the feed post. Again, that matters only to EXISTING game players, as NON-PLAYERS won't see these posts.


- Incentives for usage of distribution channels are prohibited: content gating with specific phrasing of "click here to invite 5 friends and unlock" is prohibited. Does that apply to "LIKE" to get X gold per day? I wonder if "LIKE" counts as a channel...
- You can't ask user to invite more friends on first visit to the app.

What can be done?

With these new rules outlined very clearly and a lot of restrictions removed, we could start adding gifts screen on start-up again. We could replace parts of feed posts incentives with request-based incentives. A lot of other tricks from "outdated" cookbooks will come back...

Short term impact?

Here are some notes on how this will impact my games. As soon as these changes will go live, our new mini-game, AquaDreams, won't be able to show how cool it is by allowing new users to experience the game in news feed before they install it. Yes, AquaDreams is playable in news feed without installing an app.

We've spent over a month designing news feed experience for new players to make sure they'll love to play in news feed, will install the app after "trial in news feed" and will share the mini-game so other players could play in news feed too. Cause it's cool.

But now, as only existing players of the game will be able to see mini-game in news feed, so it doesn't make sense to develop this feature... Also, until Facebook will actually roll out all the changes, we are freezing development of our second news feed mini-game called "Gem Temple" and will relocate developers to other projects. THANK YOU, FACEBOOK. 

As for overall Facebook experience impact: users will be segregated between players and non-players. Non-players will start seeing "discovery" stories, mentioning that few friends have started playing a new game. No pics, no explanation, just the name of the game and list of friends. Users will get clean news feeds if they want, developers will see virality drop from news feed channels/streams to ZERO. NULL. It will only serve as a retention and re-engagement tool. 

There will be a new API to pull list of requests into the app. Looks like it's already live in Mafia, but may be it's Zynga's internal game bar implementation - can't confirm it yet. This part is great as now apps will be able to provide great experience by using "requests as counters". Revoking requests that were accepted through in-game feeds will also be supported through usage of a new retraction API.

That's it for today, I've updated this post few times with new details as Facebook rolls out the features and as we double check various restrictions. 

If you predict that some old tricks will be back or some viral channels won't fall that hard, feel free to comment. I'll write a follow-up post based on that and as we'll hear more about new APIs.

PS I really hope I haven't missed anything, my notes were taken at 4AM when Facebook decided to hold their press conference. That's really convenient for Europeans... I've tried to fact-check everything twice. If you see that I'm wrong, please e-mail me at [email protected].

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