Dun Dun Dun Duuuun… Music Apps!

Music. Nostalgia. There’s a playlist for everything: Playlist for pregamming; playlist for the actual party; playlist for the important moments after the party. But what’s the playlist for sitting in front of the computer and watching the time marker move across your screen? Doing some preliminary research I have found that, get this, most people who listen to any form of music on their computer whether it be songs owned on the harddrive itself, a CD, or an online music service often select a playlist and leave the computer! Surprising right? Those individuals who do remain on their computers often navigate away from the page. So I set out to find out what music apps are doing to keep users on the page. Well……. not saying all I found were gimmicks that probably wont keep the users attention on the screen long enough for advertisers sake…

…. Buuut, on a positive note, I have found that music apps are doing some pretty cool things: Check this out: its an APP ALBUM! This is so exciting that I’m gonna copy a small chuck of the story thanks to Wired U.K.:

Washington-based brothers Ryan and Hays Holladay, better known as Bluebrain, have announced their latest app-album, The Violet Crown, just in time for the South by Southwest festival.

Like Bluebrain’s previous apps, The National Mall and Listen to the Light, you can only listen to The Violet Crownwithin a strictly defined geographical area — a square encircled by Congress Avenue, Frontage Road, East 7th Street and Cesar Chavez Street in Austin, Texas, approximately matching the boundaries of the area covered by the festival.

If you open up the app within that area, you’ll be able to explore the album by walking around. It’s a novel way of approaching the listening experience — instead of listening to the record chronologically, you listen to it geographically, stumbling into pockets of sound dotted around the streets which blend between each other smoothly. “Think of it as a choose-your-own-adventure of an album,” the pair say on the iTunes preview page for the app.

Imagine that! Music is such a social experience- this takes online social networking to real life social networking!

There is also an iphone app that reads your tweets while playing a song from your itunes at a lower level in the background. Cool.. ehh.. maybe once or twice but what if Pandora (for all us free subscribers out there) played their ads with songs like the ones currently playing in your playlist. As a seemless transition into the ads. People wont be interrupted as much!

Ooo. Ever wanted to be in your own music video? Ever imagined yourself walking down those hanging stairs in smooth criminal. Well now you can! Well… Video star an app for iphone allows users to shoot a video with cool music video like effects to songs already stored on the harddrive. So now you can get to shooting.

You might have heard of QR codes which embed information in a barcode-like square that you have to take a picture of to take advantage of the information. have you heard of audio tags? Audio tags are high pitched sounds embedded in music that trigger your iphone to do several things such as visit website and gather other information. Sonicnotify is the innovative app behind this, check it out:

A startup called SonicNotify embeds inaudibly high-pitched audio signals within music or any other audio track. When a compatible app hears that signal, it triggers any available smartphone function to link you to websites, display text, bring up map locations, display a photo, let you vote on which song a performer plays next and so on.

SonicNotify was developed with help from Cantora Records + Labs, which made its name by funding (for $400, initially) and releasing the band MGMT‘s massively popular records. As part of its newly minted technology division, Cantora, which is also a record label and publishing company, is offering $25,000 to $100,000 to promising startups, among the first of which is SonicNotify.

Lady Gaga could have used its technology on her Monster Ball tour1, and Coachella 2013 and other events are next in line. To interact via SonicNotify, fans can use any SonicNotify-enabled app. If you want to see it in action now, you can do so with the official Sonic Experiences app.

In searching I did find some really innovative and imaginative music apps. But I still cannot find a solution to my original issue. How can the apps keep us on the page? With audio advertisements available, should they even try?

Let’s Get A Few Things Straight

All this talk about Facebook, Apps, Open Graph, and Timeline, has my head spinning. Let’s pause for a moment to get some much-needed clarification.

Earlier this year Facebook debuted about 60 Timeline apps. Today, there are 84 timeline apps available. These apps are broken down into 9 categories: Entertainment (18), Fitness (2), Food (5), Giving (3), Music (12), News (17), Shopping and Fashion (12), Travel (5), and Other (10).

What is the difference between a Timeline app and a regular Facebook app? 

Well, simply put, Timeline apps publish Actions to your profile. Timeline apps are “meant for the activities you want to share with friends.” Other applications may be considered social, but they do not publish information about you to your profile. Both Timeline apps and regular apps on Facebook can use Open Graph.

Since Facebook is making a permanent transition to Timeline, will that make all apps Timeline apps?

Yes, no, and maybe. Not every app will post Actions to your Timeline. But, Facebook does want apps to take a more prominent role in your profile. Apps were originally used to access content. The next generation of Facebook apps are meant to reflect what you do in the real world: what you eat, buy, exercise, cook, listen to, etc. Basically, Facebook wants your Timeline to be a convergence of your “real” and “digital” lives.

What are the advantages for a company to use a Timeline app?

Facebook is already publishing success stories about Timeline apps. Content discovery, increased website traffic, time spent on site, new users, and overall “engagement” are areas where companies have seen benefits. 50% of eCommerce site visitors are loged into Facebook so there is a lot of potential for companies who want to increase online sales.

Zukerberg’s “frictionless sharing” business model means “permissionless sharing.” Since users will have to opt-out rather than opt-in, markets, and your friends, will now have access to vast amounts of data they would not have had before.

What’s up with the ticker on the right-hand-side of home page?


When you use games and apps, the ticker on the right-hand column shows your friends’ app activity in real time. The ticker may include Sponsored Stories that may or may not be about games.



Oh These Crazy Kids and Their Apps!

I’m not entirely sure what we’re supposed to be writing about, so I’m just going to say a few words about an enlightening CNN article about apps I just read.

This particular article reported on the FTC’s investigation of app developers using data mining in children’s apps. While the investigation itself was inconclusive about the link between user information given in an app and the ads the app generated, the article painted a shady portrait of how data mining violates a child’s privacy.

Now maybe my creep factor is long since gone, but I feel like it is this type of exposure that produces the negative stigma we talked about in class a couple of weeks ago. Sure, I think that it sounds bad think about an app “gathering data to push targeted ads to your 6-year-old,” but let’s step outside of the hysteria box here.

What happens every time a kid sits down to watch his favorite Saturday morning cartoon? It isn’t ads about car insurance he’s seeing, it’s ads about toys. If it’s Transformers he’s watching, chances are he’ll see ads about action figures, toy trucks, and Nerf footballs. That’s an example of advertisers pushing targeted ads, but you don’t see parents in an uproar about it.

Now to be fair, I will say that perhaps everyone’s a little creeped out, because someone is actually selling a child’s information as opposed to simply pushing a product. The permissions screen alone can be a little eyebrow-raising.

According to the article, permission screens for a phone app or a tablet app are a little different than the permissions we’ve already discussed for Facebook apps. For example, a phone app may ask for “your phone’s contact list or location data,” but keep in mind that since it’s most likely not the child’s phone, the information the app is getting is the parent’s and not the child’s.

The FTC is also concerned about the fact the these kids’ apps can be linked to social media sites like Facebook, which children should not have an account on until they 13. Some of these apps can also facilitate financial transactions, like giving links to additional games and levels, without leaving the app itself. This causes concern that children can make purchases without parents, because credit card information may already be stored in the phone or tablet.

While I see these points as somewhat valid, I still believe that this type of advertising behavior isn’t that different from what’s already been done. How long have grocery stores kept the sugary cereal been at the eye level of a child, who can throw in box into a grocery cart without their parents knowing? What about television remotes? Kids could click a button that purchases a movie they want to see, and they don’t need a parent  to approve that purchase. It’s up to the parents to keep the remote out of the hands of children that don’t know how to use it. Phones and tablets should be used the same way. It you don’t want to supervise your child’s use of technology, you should not give them access to it.

This may be a strong and harsh stance, especially considering I have no children, but the government can only do so much regulating. The rest is a gray area. According to the FTC, app stores may require developers to tell users what information they will be using, but the app store apparently does little to enforce this. It’s a similar problem to Facebook and its apps, but the difference here is that the app developers themselves can be punished.Here’s the example from the CNN article:

In September 2011, the FTC settled its first legal action against a mobile app developer in enforcement of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. According to the consent decree, the developer (W3 Innovations, which also has done business under the name “Broken Thumbs Apps”) was ordered to start publishing information about the kinds of data collected via their apps and how that data is shared, to get parental consent before collecting any new data, and to delete all the data they had collected so far — plus pay a $50,000 fine.

To me, what’s interesting is the fact that the developer didn’t get penalized under a general technology law, but a law that was specifically for children. Perhaps that’s the only legal restraint in place for app developers today, and if that’s not enough to alert your creep factor, nothing will.

Health Apps on Facebook

As technology continues to improve and more digital applications are being created – the healthcare industry doesn’t want to be left in the dust. Since mobile health apps generated a revenue of 718 million last year , there’s very good reason to be very dust free.  Development of health and medical applications are opening new and innovative ways for technology to improve health and healthcare (or at least they hope so). There have been several studies about the actual effectiveness of these applications but I wanted to focus on what is already being offered out there on Facebook.

Most of the apps focus on three health categories: fitness, nutrition, and mind/body. Fitness apps allow you to keep track of your work out plans, create your own workouts and share your progress with your friends through Facebook.  Of course you only share the good stuff, right: whoops, forgot to post the bag of pizza-flavored cornnuts I just inhaled! The nutrition apps help keep track of nutrition goals – such as calorie counter, nutritional information, and recipes. The mind and body apps are created to help with emotional and mental health – with apps like “mind games” designed to keep your brain active.  And then further from the standard are more alternative choices, like zen/buddha apps that provide tips for mediation and inspiration.  There are also several apps that focus on relationships- these apps are suppose to help you develop better relationships with your friends, family, and loved ones.

I think they are off to a good start, trying to see what sticks and what stinks, but for now these apps are only applicable to people motivated to improve or change their health behaviors/habits, are actively engaging with the applications, or just straight technology-lovers. It takes a lot of time and effort to remember to log-in and enter the last thing you ate in your calorie count app (cornnuts).

I did a quick search of “health” apps on my Facebook – I didn’t find any apps that would be useful to myself or even seemed legit to health in general.

When I was more specific in my search terms, such as “fitness” and “nutrition”, I still was not able to find legitimate apps that I would feel comfortable giving consent to my information. Think back to the quiz apps: aka “what disney princess you are” – probably just an app taking your information for other people to use.  Don’t know about that?  Well it’s a whole ‘nother story.

I appreciate that there is a wealth of health information within our finger tips, but I know there is still work to be done beyond these superficial apps. Preventive care is very important in having a healthy life – and I think so far they are doing a good job of promoting that with exercise, nutrition and mental health. However, I think that as technology continues to excel, more apps can be created to help people with existing medical conditions, whether it’s keeping track of their prescriptions, or managing their diabetes.

Permission to Share, Please

As an individual without a background in programming, here is my [admittedly feeble] attempt to dig into how Open Graph accesses information.

I spoke with Dr. Aldridge today about how information is retrieved. He told me that information can be pulled in 3 different ways: FQL (Facebook query language), Java Script and php. Most apps will use a combination of these programming languages based on their needs.

The data must then be pulled, processed, then conceptualized. Actions logged by 3rd party apps are not necessarily logged by Facebook. The potential is there to monitor what kind of data a given app is pulling, but Facebook does not have the explicit ability to observe or track what third parties then do with the information they pull.

In terms of visualizing Facebook’s Open Graph, I found Facebook’s Graph API page, the most helpful resource out there.

Public information for any user can be found at https://graph.facebook.com/ID.

Here’s what my public information looks like:

   "id": "4928378",
   "name": "William Wickey",
   "first_name": "William",
   "last_name": "Wickey",
   "username": "williamwickey",
   "gender": "male",
   "locale": "en_US"

Pretty basic.

Any additional information about an individual must be retrieved through the use of an access token generated when a user accepts a permission request. Depending on the permissions of the app, that token may also allow that app to perform action on behalf of the user such a post things.

To access additional information, an app must ask for specific permissions from the user. Permissions are then divided into “Auth Dialog” and “Enhanced Auth Dialog” on two different screens. The first permission screen grants access to basic info such as user id, name, profile picture, gender, age range, locale, networks, user ID, list of friends, and any other information they have made public. The second screen (Enhanced Auth Dialog) must be used to access additional information about the user or their friends. One interesting aspect of Enhanced Auth Dialog is that these permissions are non-revocable; i.e. once users have allowed your application from the Auth Dialog, they cannot be revoked [by a user].

Permission Screen 1:

Permission Screen 2:

Here is a more extensive list of the information that an app can potentially access and the permissions required. This also includes actions that can be performed on the behalf of a user by an app possessing the necessary permissions such as create and modify events, create and edit the user’s friend lists, perform checkins on behalf of the user, etc. https://developers.facebook.com/docs/reference/api/permissions/

If you’re curious, you can check out the apps you have already granted permission to here: http://www.facebook.com/settings/?tab=applications

Some websites that Facebook has specifically partnered with, like the ones listed below, access public information automatically in order to personalize experiences the moment you arrive.

While this list is small for the time being, Instant Personalization will doubtlessly grow rapidly. Essentially, the services listed above are trusted partners who have already been grated the initial stage of permissions to access user’s information. This is all part of Facebook’s “frictionless sharing” plan that aims to phase out the Like button in favor of automating the sharing experience. As more organizations partner with Facebook we may see the permission screen slowly phased out under the assumption that you want to share everything you do, unless you explicitly specify otherwise.

Open Graph: The latest and the greatest

This week for our Big Data class, I was asked to write about Open Graph. What is it? How will it be useful? What are the drawbacks? And what’s the latest and the greatest in Open Graph news?

A simple Google search for open graph brings up myriad posts related to application development for Facebook and, most importantly, a breaking news story about new open graph applications allegedly being implemented this week.  So what is open graph? And why should be we care that new applications for Facebook will be using it?

To answer this question, I found this video to be quite helpful in explaining what open graph is and what it means for companies and marketing.  It’s a 20-minute video, but provides knowledgeable insight into the future of marketing for companies on facebook.

To boil it all down to a single point, open graph on Facebook is a means by which to keep up with everything you click “like” on–whether you’re viewing it through facebook or viewing it on another website.  It integrates all the things you like, lets you know which of your friends like it and serves as means not only for Facebook, but for companies to make money in a new kind of marketing. Just as celebrity endorsements have been used for years to recommend products, Facebook’s open graph now give you the opportunity to get recommendations not from celebrities, but from the very people you know.

Previously, the open graph allowed users to like links to articles and content.  Here’s a quick video about Open Graph that was made when the idea was first introduced in April 2010.  Beginning tomorrow, users will be able to share their actions and activities.

According to this business insider article:

Until now, we’ve only had our hands on a few Open Graph apps like Washington Post Social Reader and Spotify. These apps let friends know when you’re listening to or reading.

Here’s how it’s going to look:

facebook open graph timeline

Each Open Graph app gets its own “verb” like ran, listened, cooked, watched or read. These verbs show friends how you’re interacting with something in your digital life.

If you spy a friend listening to a song, you can even hop in and start listening with your friend, at the same point in the song as he or she is.

Want to know more?  Here’s a few more links for your perusal:

Here’s Zuckerberg’s reveal in September 2011 of changes coming to Facebook.

Here’s Facebook’s page on Open Graph.

What tomorrow’s changes are.

Did I explain that well enough?  Leave a comment and let me know your thoughts and questions.