Five things to know before using Facebook Timeline apps

Facebook unleashes 60 "Timeline apps" that will completely change the way you interact with the social network. But before you install these attractive new apps, consider these precautions.

Sharon Profis Vice President of Content, CNET Studios
As the Vice President of CNET Studios, Sharon leads the video, social, editorial design, and branded content teams. Before this role, Sharon led content development and launched new verticals for CNET, including Wellness, Money, and How To. A tech expert herself, she's reviewed and covered countless products, hosted hundreds of videos, and appeared on shows like Good Morning America, CBS Mornings, and the Today Show. An industry expert, Sharon is a recurring Best of Beauty Awards judge for Allure. Sharon is an avid chef and hosts the cooking segment 'Farm to Fork' on PBS nationwide. She's developed and published hundreds of recipes.
  • Webby Award ("How To, Explainer, and DIY Video"); Folio Changemaker Award, 2020
Sharon Profis
3 min read
This is how Timeline apps will interact with Facebook. Facebook

Facebook finally unveiled a host of apps this evening that, coupled with Timeline profiles, will bring an entirely new experience to its users.

Initially announced at the F8 conference in San Francisco last September, Timeline apps (also known as Open Graph apps) allow brands to add real-world interactions to their applications. Spotify was one of the first companies to release a Timeline app, letting users share what they are listening to with their Facebook friends in real time.

For example as a user listens to a song on Spotify, the activity appears as, "Jane Doe is listening to July by Youth Lagoon on Spotify" on Facebook.

With tonight's announcement of more than 60 new Timeline apps, users can expect to see more actions beyond listening, like "reading," "watching," "cooking," and "running".

These apps--which include popular names like IMDB, GoodReads, RunKeeper, and StubHub--will likely increase engagement for brands that want (arguably more than anything) to penetrate the real lives of users, many of whom strongly identify with their Facebook profiles.

But before you add these attractive new apps, consider the way Open Graph works and how exactly it will affect your Facebook experience.

1. Beware of "frictionless sharing."
A term originally coined at F8, "frictionless sharing" is the company's new permissions protocol, which says that apps only need initial approval to post activities on your behalf. Once you install the app and authorize it to post stories on your profile and News Feed, it'll never ask for your permission again.

Pausing and resuming activity-sharing for any given app will depend on the app developer (like Spotify's "private listening"), but you do have ongoing control over which audiences see these activities. Be sure to select which friends you'd like to share with when installing an app.

2. Your activity will be seen everywhere.
With Open Graph, app activities will now appear in the News Feed, Ticker, and on your Facebook profile. Why? Facebook hopes that by sharing your activity everywhere, your friends will be more likely to install apps you're using, further helping brands increase awareness. In the example below, a user installs a recipe app and his or her recipe activities are shared across the Facebook platform.

Facebook Developers

3. Your Timeline might not appear in chronological order.
Graph Rank, the algorithm that decides which posts are deemed "Top Stories" will also affect your Timeline. BetaBeat reports that "...things are laid out by year and by month. But, when it comes to what's displayed to your social circle at any given time, other metrics, including direct payments to Facebook itself, will now influence the ranking and placement of stories."

This means that even if your most recent activity was a status update, your jog on the RunKeeper Timeline app might appear above it. The exact placement of activities on your Timeline are dynamic and will shift depending on who visits your Timeline, and (possibly) if Facebook is profiting off that activity.

4. Consider organizing your friends into Lists.
Because the new Timeline apps use frictionless sharing, your highest level of security against oversharing will be audience selection. As previously mentioned, you will have the opportunity to select an audience with which to share your activity upon the initial installation of an app (see photo below). In the drop-down list, under "Custom," you'll see your friend lists.

Use the drop-down menu to select a List. Screenshot by Sharon Vaknin/CNET

By using lists, you'll have better control of who exactly will see your activity for Timeline apps. For example, you may only want to share events you're attending via StubHub with close friends, but recipes you're cooking via Foodily with your foodie friends.

Follow this guide to setting up Facebook friend lists.

5. You can always revoke an app's permissions.
If you decide you no longer want to use an app or want to change its sharing settings, you may do so at any time. Head to the App Settings page and click the "x" next to the app to delete it, or click "Edit" to change the audience selection.