Last month Facebook made user profiles available to everyone — including anyone not logged in to Facebook and search engines. Today it announced it was opening up the application directory and application “about” pages. In terms of privacy, this means that if you comment on an application anyone can see that comment, although anyone not logged in will see only your profile picture and first name. (Anyone logged in will see your last name and a link to your profile). The application developers are also listed by first name only in the logged-out version of the page. Facebook says it’s making the move to enable application developers to get more exposure and users for their applications.
Privacy concerns first. Is this an invasion of user privacy? One could argue that users participated in discussions on application pages with the expectation that they would only be seen from within the Facebook walled garden. However, this information has always been viewable by anyone logged into Facebook, which theoretically could include anyone. This move doesn’t make anything available that was previously only viewable to those you had added as a friend.
By listing only a first name, Facebook is making it difficult for searches that return all comments a particular person has made across all application pages, although by listing the profile picture, Facebook is making visual identification fairly straightforward. You can make your profile picture available to only your friends and those in your network by disabling it in your public listing. Under “What Can People Do With My Search Results”, deselect “View my profile picture”.
Facebook says application pages will start showing up in search engines within a few days, but when it announced that it was opening up profiles, it turns out that wasn’t actually new and profiles were already indexed. Are applications already indexed as well? They aren’t.
The first application page to be indexed in Google is a Second Life application with a cache date of October 20th. Click on the cached link and you’ll find that everyone is indeed listed only by first name and there are no profile links.
But isn’t this cloaking content for the search engines? No. View that same page when not logged in and you’ll see exactly what the search engines do (it only seems like cloaking since none of us are ever logged out of Facebook).
In addition to the application directory and application about pages, the direct application pages are also beginning to be indexed by search engines. However, if you’re not logged in to Facebook, you’ll simply see a login page if you access these URLs. Likely, search engine bots are following links from the about pages to these application-specific pages and being redirected to the login page.
How can search marketers take advantage of this change? You should definitely provide as much keyword-rich descriptive information as possible in the title of your application, the summary that appears in the application directory, and, particularly on the application about page. Be sure to include a link from the about page to your web site. (Facebook could help by providing a meta description tag that draws from the application description. However, as with the profile pages, each page has the same generic meta description about Facebook.) If developers take advantage of this change, they could increase adoption of their applications and as well as improve traffic to their sites.
Additional discussion at Techmeme.