Facebook’s “Games Dashboard”: Find Your Friends’ Favorite Games

The Facebook Developers’ Blog recently published an update discussing, among other features, a brand new “Games Dashboard”. In short, the games dashboard centralizes all the information about any Facebook game a user has played. This is a welcome change, as the current application organization scheme implemented by Facebook was convoluted, to put it mildly.

I suspect these changes are going to help Facebook gamers of all types. Casual game players can more easily find their game through the improved UI, engaged users will be able to more easily access information about which games their friends are playing and power-users can more easily sort through the dozens of games and hundreds of friends per game.

Taking a look at the screenshot, we can analyze the specifics of a few key features that will be part of the Games dashboard.

Recently Used Games

  • A list of recently completed in-game activities, categorized by game.
  • Everytime users see their dashboard, they will be presented with a clear list of their friends’ recent activity in their most-played games. Working in the social games industry, metrics analysis consistently proved that socially relevant links such as these generated the highest clickthrough.
  • The number of friends playing a game is listed beside the title of the game throughout the Games Dashboard. Again, social context increases clickthrough and gets users to try new games that are popular with their friends.

Your Friends’ Recent Activity

  • A list of games that are most popular with my friends, listed alongside their activity.
  • This section is for discovery of new games. Socially relevant suggestions generated the greatest clickthrough into new games, and this area will allow users to choose a new game based on the concept they trust most: which game has attracted my friends.

Your Friends’ Play

  • A list of friends and which games they play.
  • This section is also about discovery, and a user can look for a specific friend and see which games they play. This is almost impossible to do in the current Facebook infrastructure.

To see a full list of changes, head over the Facebook Developers Blog.

ING Direct Canada Races to the Forefront of the Social Media World

I recently had a chance to sit down with ING Direct Canada CEO Peter Aceto and Mark Nicholson, Head of Online Experience to discuss ING Direct’s social media campaign that has brought the financial services company to the forefront of the social media buzz.  I recommend all readers to checkout Peter Aceto’s twitter feed, one of the liveliest CEO feeds on the web.

What draws you to use Social Media to connect with your clients?  What advantage does it have for ING?

Peter Aceto: As a direct business model where transparency and openness are two of our core philosophies, it just makes sense that we’d engage in conversation anywhere people gather to discuss important issues, including Facebook and Twitter. Social media allows us to engage in meaningful dialogue with our clients, most notably giving them another direct access point into the company to help answer their questions and discuss innovations they are looking for from us.

Do you find that social media changes the traditional rules of PR?

Peter Aceto: Social media has provided an avenue to have the types of conversations we want to have with Canadians. It’s exciting to be able to have an open dialogue on this platform and another medium in which to reach and connect with people. While I don’t believe that social media replaces traditional media, it certainly allows people to engage more fully in the news they read, and share their reactions and thoughts on the world around them. Although there is more transparency and time required to engage in this forum, it suits a brand like ING DIRECT with values based on openness, fairness and being direct.

Do you have any specific stories of how your experiences with social media have surprised you?

Peter Aceto: Social media has allowed me to have a very honest conversation with people. It has provided me with a means to reflect on our business and the decisions we make each day as a business. It forces us to remain authentic and true to who we are and what we stand for. I’m blown away by Canadians’ passion for our brand and in helping others to empower themselves using basic savings principles.

Today people are questioning the expensive financial or investment advice they have been getting. They are now turning to friends, family and peers for advice on these products. Social media help broaden this discussion to a wider group of people – extending its reach from the family get-together on Sunday to a network of thousands.

How has social media helped ING in the face of overwhelming media criticisms regarding financial institutions’ role in causing the financial meltdown and global recession?

Peter Aceto: Social media allows us to talk directly with Canadians in an open forum – through Facebook via our fan page “Save Your Money” and Twitter via @CEO_INGDIRECT.  It has allowed us to share the facts as we know them. I think Canadians appreciate having a forum where they can ask ING DIRECT questions about their money – including questions about the global recession and how it affects our business. Facebook and Twitter allow us to reassure Canadians that their money is safe with us, give them tips to help them with their savings challenges, and ideas for how to save during difficult times – for example options for guaranteed investments such as short-term RSPs or TFSAs. It’s always important to save, even during a recession, and our voice in this space is helping to inform people that they have options and can always find ways to save, even in small ways.

Although ING DIRECT is one of the Good Guys, the lack of trust of financial institutions is a reality. We’ve built a trust relationship with our clients over the last 13 years that is serving us very well now. This trust was greeted through our openness, honesty, and transparency that our clients are not surprised by fees, charges or other bad news. We’re direct and truthful.

Do you get overwhelmed by the number of personal responses required to keep a direct communication line open with all followers/customers?

Peter Aceto: Absolutely. This space is all about immediacy. The level of interaction from our clients has surprised and delighted us and it’s kept us actively engaged in the conversation as its coming fast.

How do you deal with negative publicity potentially generated through social media? Are you just going to tweet positives?  ie. Online communities scoff when corporations get into social media because they tend to only push positive stories relating only to their own company.

Peter Aceto: I’ve dealt with both positive and negative publicity in an open and transparent fashion. For example, I had a Tweeter who was unhappy with the wait times in the call centre attributed to the RRSP deadline. This Tweeter called us out on it and I reached out to let [him] know we were listening.  The platform allowed me to explain directly why it was happening. In the end, this person understood our position and appreciated the quick and direct way we interacted with him about it. ING DIRECT’s intent in being in this space isn’t about just pushing the positives – it’s about listening and making our business better for our clients.

What are the initial results of your campaign and are they encouraging?  How will your social media campaign grow/evolve?

Mark Nicholson: While we don’t look at this as a campaign per se, the results since launching the Facebook fan page have been quite promising.  We reached 1,400 fans in just under a month and the conversation is alive!  Clients are asking some really good questions and interacting with each other on a broad range of savings-related topics.

How are you measuring the success of your social media campaigns?  What metrics are you using?

Mark Nicholson: We are working with one of our partners, The Social Media Group, to develop what is called the Conversation Index for the Financial Services category.  We are leveraging this to measure our efforts in the social media space. It’s not all about measurement however. How do we know how often people mention ING DIRECT at the dinner table? We don’t – but the conversation needs to happen and we want to be at the table.

Have you allocated new/additional budget for your social media strategy?

Mark Nicholson: We have focused more of our traditional budget on the social media strategy and based on early results, will continue to shift the budget to support these initiatives.

How are you aggregating conversations and feedback from social media and incorporating it into your business plans?

Mark Nicholson: We are currently measuring the conversation and some of the raw feedback through our partners as well as through tools such as ScoutLabs. This information provides us an invaluable feedback loop whereby we can react, respond and adapt where necessary.

Do you see social media as a brand new form of advertising and marketing, or a complement to traditional methods?

Mark Nicholson: We aren’t approaching social media as a platform to advertise.  We are currently using social media as an open communications forum – to listen to and address Canadians’ expectations of us.  That being said, we will look at opportunities that use social media to augment our marketing efforts where it makes sense.

Do you consider the Canadian Superstar Saver Search a success?  What was your goal with that contest?

Mark Nicholson: Yes. The Canadian Superstar Saver Search was a screaming success.  The spirit of the contest wasn’t about selling product.  It was about people living the brand.  We had over 200 videos submitted in just more than six weeks and they ranged from big to small productions.  The top 10 videos had over 1,200 hours of viewing time.  The specific objectives were two-fold.  The first was to move the metrics surrounding brand awareness and innovation.  The secondary objective was about being first to market.  We wanted to be the first company to leverage the new YouTube platform for a contest in Canada. We achieved both successfully.

Social Game Review: Celebrity Agent for Facebook

Celebrity Agent by TheInsider.com is a social game with a rewarding way of comparing your celebrity knowledge against your friends, but ultimately suffers from lack of depth.

Overall Score: 6.0 (Just Above Mediocrity)

Celebrity Agent by TheInsider.com

Celebrity Agent by TheInsider.com

Pros

  • Effective tutorial screens make it easy to get started
  • Core gameplay is simple, yet entertaining
  • Ties in with TheInsider.com well

Cons

  • Limited depth of gameplay beyond badges
  • Community of players is small
  • Almost impossible to play without friends

Gameplay:

From the get-go, Celebrity Agent presents itself as a very basic game in which users can easily play with minimal time investment.  While this is an effective method of getting users interested, it ultimately becomes their downfall as the game lacks any serious long term replay value.  Despite its lack of depth, the core game is actually pretty fun.  The goal of the game is to collect money and badges (achievements) by selecting a team of 6 celebrities for your roster.  You gain money when your celebrities make news on TheInsider.com, as well as a bonus money when you gain a new badge.  Badges are gained when you have certain combinations of celebrities on your roster.  For example if you have both Barack and Michelle Obama, you receive the “Obama” badge.  In order to get a new celebrity on your roster, you must swap one of yours with a friend.

Gameplay is divided into 2 separate purposes: getting badges and getting money.  Its up to the user to decide which aspect of the game they prefer at first as it is impossible to keep a steady roster while collecting badges.  Personally I found getting badges to be more entertaining, as it is the more active portion of the game.  Finding that rare celebrity to complete your badge that you have been working on for days is highly rewarding.  For me it was finding “Spencer Pratt” for the “Reality Show Villains” badge.  I never thought I would be so happy to see that idiots face.  However, I can also see the appeal of trying to just obtain the best roster and play the game more passively as it is less time intense and you can actually make more money that way.

Social Gameplay:

The game has many of the common social elements that has become be the standard today.  The leaderboard is prominently displayed and other than its standard application of showing your friends scores, you can also click on each friend to access their rosters.  From here you can steal their celebrities.   The social elements are limited, yet effective for the game.  Because the game relies solely on stealing celebrities from your friends in order to change your roster, having friends (more importantly, active friends) who play the game is imperative to its success.  While this model is the breeding ground for social game success, it places too much emphasis on having active friends playing the game to the point where you literally can’t play the game unless you have friends. The game does address this problem by adding 4 computer generated “friends” to your initial leaderboard, but it does come off a bit impersonal once you realize they aren’t real people.

Graphics & Aesthetics:

The pages were well organized, especially by social game standards, and there weren’t too many times where I couldn’t find the function I wanted.  As you can see in the above screenshot, the celebrities’ images themselves were big and recent, as they’re imported from The Insider, and that made the game feel current.  The strongest aesthetic element of the game was the introductory screen, which clearly explains how to play the game in three easy steps.

Monetization:

The game does not monetize in any way.  The game is completely free to users, and we guess that the goal of the site is to bring traffic into theinsider.com.

Community

Seeing as only 1 other person I knew was playing the game, I needed to find more players and went to the official Facebook page.  There are 6 to 7 posts a day from eager players looking to trade celebrities or just discuss some of the latest information.  For example:

Among other values, Celebrity Agent promotes a healthy dose of obsession.

Among other values, Celebrity Agent promotes a healthy dose of obsession.

Analysis

The game peaked in mid-September, and has been s lowly losing MAUs from its peak of 45,000 to around 33,000 today.  Seeing as it has no revenue, it would be hard to call this a smashing success.  However, given the probably low cost, and the goal to drive users to use theinsider.com, it may have served its purpose.  Our guess was that this game was developed by a small games team on a contract for TheInsider.com.  The problem with using small third party teams for small limited scope contracts are that the games always go half the way: if they had further developed the game, and incorporated virtual currencies, teams and more, this could have been a fantastic social game.

This also ties into the fact that social games like these ‘start’ once they are launched.  The time most critical to success is the first few months post-launch, when the game must be improved and tuned based on the users’ feedback.  Unfortunately, with contract games like this, the game doesn’t evolve as much as it should.  A few new badges won’t cause any viral sensations.

The game itself has a very interesting hook, and takes an admirable shot at combining the market of celebrity fans with facebook fans, but suffers from long term appeal and over-reliance on your friends involvement.  I would have liked to see an alternate method for obtaining celebrities, as well as a use for the money you gain other than just getting new celebrities.

Overall, you’ll probably have a few days of enjoyment with this, especially if you love celebs, but unless your friends are playing, you’ll probably drop it after a week.

Try Celebrity Agent here.

Watchmen on Blu-Ray and Facebook

 

Dr. Manhattan will be in all your friends living rooms simultaneously.

Dr. Manhattan will be in all your friends' living rooms simultaneously.

This is an example of Facebook reaching far past its standard boundaries. The idea of watching a Blu-Ray in real-time with my Facebook friends is a truly social experience, something akin to having a distributed theater experience.

 

Watchmen version of Blu-Ray Live will feature Facebook

Cool.

Facebook Pirates Language – What arrr ye doin’ right now?

Facebook English(Pirate)!

Arrr, Facebook recently launched the hottest new language – English (Pirate).  Go into your Settings and select Language to change it up.  A vast amount of standard headings have been pirate-icized, which definitely spices things up.

A tip o’ me bottle o’ rum for them hearty Facebook marketing group on this great publicity stunt!

Facebook pulls a Start Menu with their Application Bar

Facebook has been touting more change than Obama for the past few weeks.  First the layout switched on us, then the application interface was modified, the “home” button was re-added to the top pane, and now we’ve got the Facebook Application Bar.

In short, in an almost Windows fashion, the bottom left corner of your Facebook experience now has a series of shortcuts to your favorite applications, and an “Applications” button which displays all Applications.  It really gives Applications a clear home in the new Facebook design, and shows just how quick and nimble they desire the user interface to be.  I really sense their aggressiveness in making FB your one-stop-shop for Games, Friends and maybe even Utilities (although that’s a way off).

In any case, this news, combined with the de-prioritization of Profile Boxes and super-prioritization of Tabs means that FB is trying to really promote the applications that you use often. If an app has a real-world value to you, you’ll add the tab and favourite it in your application bar.  And you’ll have one more reason to pop over to facebook.com, as if we needed another.

The Apple iPhone 3G: Changing the Social Networking Paradigm

The dawn of the electronic social age is upon us.  It exploded with PC-based Internet, but you may question, where is it headed next?  Mobile phones have gained mass-adoption by most demographics, but they have yet to really change the way that we engage in social networking.  They primarily exist today as a means to enhance one’s existing social network as a communication medium.

But with iPhone 3G set to be released tomorrow, everything poised to change.

With the launch of the iPhone Application Developer Platform, individual developers now have the capability to rapidly develop innovative applications that take advantage of all the iPhone’s features.  Now anyone with some spare time can easily come up with creative applications that leverage the iPhone’s location-based GPS features and high-speed internet connection.  The possiblities are endless.  Want to chat to the crowd in a 100-meter radius at a concert?  Want to check out the profiles of all the hot girls in the bar on your iPhone so you can go on a directed attack? (ok, that one’s pretty lame, but you get my point)

What makes this application platform even more powerful is that individual developers now have a powerful marketing and sales channel, the iPhone Store, to distribute their applications to the millions of iPhone consumers worldwide.  Think Facebook Applications, but for the iPhone.  It’s a win-win situation for both Apple and the developers, as Apple stands to leverage developers world-wide to build vast quantities of innovative applications to enhance the value of the iPhone.  At the same time, developers have a channel to distribute their applications with a direct incentive to develop applications by earning either revenue for downloads or indirect monetary benefits (advertising, social graph, etc.) with no-charge applications.

But who is the big winner amongst it all?  Of course – the consumer.  We’ll now have a very valuable social tool for bringing our social networking capabilities to a new dimension.  With tens of thousands of developers around the world building their own unique and creative applications to get a slice of Apple’s pie, there are bound to be must-have applications created that change the way we live and communicate.

I would surmise that the iPhone 3G and it’s application platform will do for social networking what Netscape and the browser did for the worldwide web.  Social networking was not meant to take place sitting in front of a computer all day.  It needs to evolve to areas and events where you actually socialize, and can leverage mobile technology to enhance your social connections.  The iPhone 3G is ushering in this new era.

Why am I so confident?  Apple is cool, Apple is trendy; the product, interface, and design are all best in class; they have the commercial channel; they have the price that will drive mass adoption ($199); and best of all, they have the vision of how a consumer is meant to leverage their mobile device to enhance their daily lives.

And the commercial platform for developers now provides them instant access to bring the utility of the iPhone to new heights.  Applications can be discovered, distributed, updated and shared with one touch.

And ground zero breaks tomorrow, folks.  It will be an exciting time to watch it all unfold.

Steve Jobs on Finding Meaning in Life

Not directly related to social networking, but I ran across a great speech given by Steve Jobs to a Stanford graduating class on finding meaning in life and overcoming challenges. I highly, highly recommend listening to his speech if you’re looking for any kind of inspiration.

Inspiring quotes:

“And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. And don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And with any great relationship, it just keeps getting better and better as the years go on. So keep looking – don’t settle.”

“If you live each day as if it was your last – some day you’ll most certainly be right.” “…if today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I’m about to do today? – and whenever the answer has been ‘no’ for too many days in a row, then I know I need to change something… Remembering that you are going to die, is the best way I know, to avoid the trap of thinking that you have something to lose. You are already naked – there is no reason not to follow your heart.”

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma, which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

FriendConnect, Facebook Connect and the Next Few Years

Google Press Center: News Announcement

As is normal in the social networking space, an announcement with massive implications has snuck up on us overnight, and seeing as mainstream media has not the sense nor foresight to understand its implications, the big news drifts innocently along the formal news stream of the day.

Google Friend Connect, simply, allows any site to implement users, friend lists and third-party applications using Google’s OpenSocial. So let’s say you made a great Facebook Application, and want to spread the idea: whip it into a full blown web page, implement Google OpenSocial’s FriendConnect, and now you’ve got completely control over your destiny AND a full-sized web site to boot.

While it will take a long time, my preliminary analysis is that Google will continue to improve support for FriendConnect, and continue to woo bigger and bigger companies and websites to use it, and over the course of the next few years, it will be an important part of any site that desires to be ‘connected’.

That said, Facebook just recently moved forward with their own similarly named Facebook Connect, which allows any site on the web to provide its users with a simply “Connect to Facebook” button, which will then port in all of FB’s friend and user information, and allow for the use of applications.

What’s the conclusion here? These two companies are going to war over the areas outside Facebook’s walled garden, and the next year is going to be absolutely critical to determine whether people truly value the amount of photos, friend connections and wall posts they’ve already put into their Facebook. Because Google’s FriendConnect is going to operate as most Google products do: silently. You’ll use a feature here or there, then maybe sign up one time (if you’re not already), and one day you’ll realize all your friends are on there as well, and one guy will throw up a photo on there, and a rush will occur, where everyone heads over to make their second important Social account…

Just like when MySpacians migrated to FB.

Only time will tell.

Facebook Visualizations and Twistori

twistori is genius. Using Twitter’s open technologies, Twistori is a tool that reads into the massive database of Twitter messages, and presents you with a live feed of messages using whatever word you can think of.

A lot of its success and allure has to do with the presentation. Along with Facebook’s Lexicon, I’m excited at the potential of mining the incredible social data that is now available on the web. Interactions and relationships between people can reveal great trends about our culture and behavior. I’m sure this will one day help to reduce the amount of redundancy in today’s advertising.

Before you kill me on that, think about it. Right now, I get hit with a web ad for a brand new Luxury SUV. Anyone that had even had the vaguest notion of who I am would know that I’m just never going to buy one. But still, Lexus is wasting a bit of their money getting that ad to my eyes.

Maybe one day, when the ability to harness trends and personal preferences is used wisely, the right car company can find out that they will be able to sell me if they pitch the 5 year lease on their brand new hybrid fuel-cell car-plane.