Facebook to help third parties use location-related data

Adding place objects to the Open Graph API will help users learn more about the places they go, Facebook says

Facebook will soon add place objects to its Open Graph API, making it easier for third-party developers to link their data about locations such as concert venues to Facebook users' personal posts.

With the new feature, developers will be able to do the same kinds of things with places that they can today with elements such as music, said Josh Williams, a product manager at Facebook. Open Graph is the API (application programming interface) that gives third parties such as vendors and service providers access to Facebook. A well-known example of the use of Open Graph is Spotify's generation of Facebook status updates about what its users are listening to. The use of Open Graph is governed by Facebook users' privacy settings, Williams said.

Williams discussed the plans for place objects at the Where 2012 conference in San Francisco, a three-day lineup of startup pitches and developer talks that will continue through Wednesday. Location is a hot topic for mobile application and service developers, with new tools and software mashups quickly emerging. Also on Tuesday, Urban Airship announced it will help its partners apply context to notifications they send to consumers' smartphones.

While Facebook hosts certain types of information about places, in the form of its users' posts about where they are or where they are going, other companies have specialized information of their own, Williams said. For example, a ticket sales service knows who has bought tickets to concerts at a specific venue.

Using place objects in the Open Graph API, those third parties will be able to combine their knowledge with Facebook's. In the concert venue example, a ticket seller could inform someone if any of their Facebook friends were going to a given concert, Williams said. That could give them the chance to meet up or let the vendor persuade the consumer to buy a ticket, he said. The new capability could also help travelers learn about what their friends saw and enjoyed in the destinations they are visiting, he said.

This is already possible, but requires a lot of hard work by third-party developers, Williams said. The new capability in Open Graph will be available to developers soon, and third-party implementations of it should hit Facebook by year's end, he said.

Mobile notifications company Urban Airship also pitched new consumer-targeting features at the conference. It announced two new tools to help companies deliver push notifications to phones only when consumers want to see them.

Using technology it acquired through its purchase of SimpleGeo last October, the company announced Urban Airship Segments, a feature that lets companies apply more criteria on top of a user's location before they interrupt the consumer with a notification. It can take into consideration factors such as where the user is coming from, where they are going and what activity they are involved in.

Developers of mobile apps need to be careful with the ability to send notifications to cellphones, he said.

"This device has permission to interrupt you," Urban Airship CEO Scott Kveton said, holding up a smartphone. "You'd better think hard about how you're going to do that, or you're going to get turned off."

Urban Airship Segments lets app providers go beyond the proverbial coupon that automatically pops up when a frequent customer happens to walk by a coffee shop, he said. For example, a mobile app for the New York Times could offer a New York nightlife guide to a user of the app who has traveled to New York from another city. Or a pharmacy could send a notification that a customer's prescription is available if that customer is near the drug store.

Urban Airship will also extend its targeted notification capability indoors through a partnership with Meridian, which is developing an "indoor GPS" system for locations such as museums and retail stores, Kveton said.

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com

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