Facebook F8 Conference Notes

Facebooks F8 conference was held last month in San Francisco. During his mid-day keynote Mark Zuckerberg reported that the Facebook platform now has 400,000 developers and 90 million users of which 32% are from the United States. The platforms US user population grew 2.4x last year while the international population grew at an astounding 5.1x.

Vladimir Fedorov (Windows Live Mesh) attended F8 and brought together this excellent sent of notes on the conference.



I spent the day on Wednesday at Facebook (F8) conference and talked to some of the companies building facebook applications today. Overall I was pleasantly surprised by overall sense of direction/messaging and organization of the conference itself.

There were only 12 talks divided into 3 tracks – Technical/User Experience/Business, so I was able to attend a third of all talks.

The was focus throughout the day was on making it easier for applications that increase the value of the Facebook ecosystem and stopping abusing applications that detract value. The event itself was organized through a Facebook application. Here are the main changes in the Facebook application platform:

  1. Improve visibility of applications and allow users to observe functionality offered by an application without user taking an explicit install action
  2. Lower the barrier to using the application i.e. remove the necessity of a dialog granting rights to the application prior to any functionality being available
  3. Make the rights granting to application more granular i.e. remove the necessity of granting the application an extensive set of rights prior to using it. Grant specific permission at the time the application performs an operation.
  4. Allow external websites to act as applications on the Facebook platform by using Facebook as an identity provider, using social graph from Facebook and submitting data to Facebook news feed
  5. Allow the internalization method used for Facebook itself (translation by users) to be used by applications

The statistics given at keynote were 400k developers, 90 million users (32 % US / 68 % International) as compared to 24 million last year (50% US / 50% international), 200 million in venture capital given to facebook applications. Note that while the number of international users increased by 5.1x (by 49.2 million), the number of US users only increased by 2.4x (16.8 million).

I went through the booths and talked to a number of Facebook application companies. I was primarily focusing on what they do and how they plan to make money. The business models are:

  1. Transaction fees – charging a small percentage per transaction for organizing events or coordinating travel
  2. Software as service – sell packages to organizations such as donation drive or car pooling applications
  3. Indirect advertising – large companies want to drive brand awareness through the social graph, but don’t know how. There were different methods here – branded gifts i.e. Gunness beer, full featured brand campaigns, games which incorporate brand info in them, etc
  4. Direct advertising – trip planning, activity planning, wedding planning, reviews, etc

There were a number of companies that didn’t have a real business model, but are still adding value to the ecosystem especially when combined with an offering from a different company.

The major features released are new application authorization model, new news feed (with new backend), Facebook Connect, new look to the site and opening of internalization support used for Facebook itself to applications.

News Feed/News backend

They decided to do fan out on read in order to minimize storage costs and maximize the ability to tinker with the algorithm that decides which news events are shown to the user. The backend is made of two classes of machines – transient storage machines and aggregator machines. The users are assigned to buckets using a hashing algorithm and the buckets are assigned to transient storage machines using a DB table. For each user they store 30 days of events generated by the user in the transient storage machines. There are two replicas of the data in transient storage machines (replicas are on different racks). Each transient storage machine has 40GB of RAM and they use 40 machines for 90 million users. They also use 40 aggregator machines which actually construct the news feed that is shown on the website (in <50ms) by reading the events for each friend of the user from the transient storage machines and aggregating them. There are two racks each with twenty aggregators and twenty transient storage machines, where each rack has a complete copy of the data. The aggregators have affinity to transient storage machines in the same rack, but will go to the other rack when local machine fails. There is no affinity between users and aggregators. They report they have 8x to 10x extra capacity in this solution. Facebook doesn’t have any geo-partitioning, which interesting given that majority of users are international. [JRH: they now have some geo-redundancy to serve read only queries nearer to users and to backup the primary site: Geo-Replication at Facebook]

The transient data is updated by another process called the “tailor” which reads the tail of a file on a network file system which actually contains the persisted copy of the data. The “tailor” periodically updates each user in the transient storage system via a system of dirty flags. Any of the transient machines can be restarted and reloaded from the persisted store in 10-20 minutes. This is different from the normal MySQL solution they use for the rest of their metadata.

They now allow comments on the news feed items. They also formalized 3 formats for the entry – one liner, summary, and picture plus text. The developers can register templates for each format (i.e. “author” has listened to “track” on MyMusicFoo) and then post just the data together with the template id instead of the whole message. The coalescing is black box – the system requires the developers to register multiple templates and will choose between them depending on the event volume. The event volume is throttles but the throttles change dynamically on the basis of user behavior i.e. if your applications event is marked as spam by some percentage of users the throttle is lowered.

Facebook Connect

In order to merge other websites into the ecosystem, Facebook is providing identity services to third party registered websites. A good example is integration with CitySearch. If you are logged into Facebook, you are automatically logged into CitySearch if you “CitySearch” enabled your Facebook account. Whenever you do a CitySearch review you have an option of spamming your friends news feed with it. You can also view reviews by your friends, who have “CitySearch” enabled their Facebook account. Through a system of exchanging hashes for email addresses, there is a UI to invite your friends who are already on CitySearch to “CitySearch” enabled their Facebook account. The end result is that in addition to providing identity services they also provide social network services and drive extra traffic to your site, making it more desirable for third party web sites to offer integration. In exchange the Facebook pages become more content rich and third party websites start acting almost like Facebook application.

International Support

Facebook is translated by the users themselves via voting system, where a user suggests a translation and the rest of the users vote on it. They opened this system up to applications, where application strings can be translated in the same way. While Facebook itself has had success with this model (complete translation to a new language in <24 hours) it is less clear that application with smaller user bases will be translated quickly.

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