What Facebook's Open Graph Update Means For Your Timeline

Yesterday Facebook launched Open Graph, its tool for letting third party developers share actions in your timeline, with 60 new partners. Here's what you can do with it, and why you might not like it.

Let's start by looking at who those partners are. Some of them are big names: Pinterest, LivingSocial, eBay, Digg, Foursquare, Ticket Master, Monster, Yahoo!, TripAdvisor. Others are less prolific, but still important: RunKeeper, Rhapsody, Kobo, Rotten Tomatoes...

There are too many to list — 60 in fact — and if you want to see them all, look at Facebook's list. But it's worth realizing that this isn't a trivial roll-out by Facebook: these are services already used by plenty of people. That's important.

With these partners, Facebook is offering apps for your timeline. Just like the way Social Graph works right now with Spotify, these new apps will allow users to broadcast what they're doing with these third parties and inject them into their timelines.

Facebook is keen to point out that users can control exactly who will see updates and what appears, though given its previous track record on privacy, who knows how easy it will be to control. Regardless, this is important. It would be very easy for people to spew their whole life out into a public feed, and that's not good for anyone concerned.

Settings aside, expect to see what your friends are cooking thanks to Foodily, where they're travelling via TripAdvisor, what they're buying through Pinterest... and, well, much more. The fact that big internet names are involved means that this will gain traction, and quickly. This isn't something that might take off: people will be using it, and soon.

And when it does, expect more verbs. More branded verbs. "Matt just cooked suasages with Foodily", "Sarah just flew back from Turkey with TripAdvisor", "Jamie just bought an inflatable doll with eBay"... you know, that kind of bull. Fortunately, Facebook developers do have the verbs on offer tied down pretty tight, which is something I guess. But in truth, it is just a great way to splash more branding into your timeline, like it or not.

Facebook points out that these apps can encourage interaction. Presumably that means things like sharing recipes, comparing run times, bragging in whole new ways to friends about where you went on holiday, and maybe even selling your crap via the eBay app to people you know rather than strangers. Personally, I'll believe any such benefit of these apps when I see it.

I'm not going to sit and moan and gripe about how disgusting this all is: Facebook is a free service, and I find it difficult to moan about things that are free. OK, so some people are overly reliant on it, but then I'm overly reliant on Google. The extra advertising is a pain, sure, but we have to deal with it, because it's free.

My issue with it is the bland uniformity it introduces. These kinds of updates replace the quirky, interesting status updates of your friends — to an extent — with commercially driven drivel. That's fine if you like that kind of thing, but I want something more intimate form my social networks.

I want the bad grammar of my old school mates; I want the self-indulgent updates from my spoilt-brat university friends; I want quirky insight on a news article from my colleagues. It makes them human, and it makes Facebook fun. My friends aren't defined by brands, but by themselves. Please let that continue. [Facebook; Image: west.m]