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Programming Social Applications by Jonathan LeBlanc

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What Is a Social Application Container?

Social networking sites are a very familiar part of our daily lives; for example, we use Facebook to connect with friends and family, and LinkedIn to network or interact with colleagues. These sites have become deeply ingrained in our daily online habits. As social networking sites attempt to increase participation among their user base, they may begin allowing third parties to build applications that reside within them.

At a base level, such applications can provide the social networking site with integral functionality for users, delivering valuable features where none existed previously. In some cases, these applications may have even been planned integration points for the site.

A site that hosts a third-party application, thus providing a means by which the application can leverage the social data of its user base, is a container. The relationship between the container and an application is mutually beneficial:

  • The container builds more value for its users by providing new content that can tap into the profile information or connections they already have, thereby increasing their amount of time on site.

  • The application gains a new outlet for promoting its content. In addition, it immediately inherits the benefit of the social graph built out by the container. The application can use this graph to drive new users back to its root site or build additional users for its service.

Note

Jive Software is one example of an enterprise social networking container. Jive could have created a feature to provide survey functionality, but because it allows third-party developers to construct applications on top of it, the SurveyGizmo app supplies this functionality instead. Both companies benefit from this relationship.

A social networking container typically consists of at least three categories of user-based social information that an application can take advantage of:

The user profile

Information the user has provided about himself

Friends and connections

The user’s social graph, comprising a rich web of interconnected, relevant contacts

Activity stream

The user’s news feed, which provides an aggregated view of the activities around the network and updates from his friends and connections

Each piece helps to build the relevance of a social container. More importantly, it offers an instant starting point from which application developers can reach a large new audience for their products and applications, where otherwise they might have had to host a site to display the information and build up their own social graph.

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