After one week in the Apple App Store, Facebook has blocked a Yandex app called Wonder from accessing user data in the social search app's quest to help friends find what each other are doing, listening to and reading. Open web…yea right.
Wonder allows people to connect to their friends' Instagram, Foursquare, Twitter, and until today, Facebook feeds to see what they are up to, and now the app no longer displays Facebook information.
Wonder iPhone App Closed
In fact, the mobile app currently only available in the US based App Store is not allowing new users to sign up anymore because of the dust up. A message on the Yandex Wonder iTunes page says those logged in can still use the app, but Facebook data will not be updated because the API has been blocked.
But wait, isn't Yandex a search engine? Facebook really, really wants to improve its search features, and with its trove of Social Graph data, it aims to. It turns out, Yandex might have built an app that hits a bit too close to home for Facebook. Ah, competition.
For its part, the Wonder app was built to take advantage of mobile speech recognition, and it allows people to ask their devices where their friends went to eat or what music they are listening to. It's a novel way to keep up with a person's friends, and help discover new restaurants, local haunts and music from places like Spotify and Rdio. Think of it like 'wonder what my friends are having for lunch?' or 'maybe I'll wonder (wander) over to my buddy's favorite book store.'
Unfortunately for Yandex, this ability to comb through the Facebook Social Graph looks too much like the newly announced Graph Search feature. Graph Search allows Facebookers to sort through their friends by what they like and where they are. Forthcoming apps and Facebook developers be warned — use Social Graph carefully or Facebook will kick you out!
Ask an iPhone or iTouch where Instagram, Twitter and Foursqure friends are meeting for events or functions.
Is There Hope for the open Web?
Facebook's Graph Search tool is just a beta product at the moment, so it's not yet widely available. Perhaps the Wonder app would have fizzled even if it did have access to Facebook. But for companies like Facebook who take the walled garden approach to the Web, is there no hope for the open Web in the vision of pioneers like Tim Berners-Lee, the father of the Web?
More data should be available for everyone to use, Berners-Lee said last week at the World Economic Forum annual meeting in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland. This was in response to more than 70 countries and businesses signing a cybersecurity deal at the forum, but Berners-Lee spoke more generally about breaking down silos.
Things like anonymized hospital data and bus times are very valuable to those who can manipulate it. But they need access to that data, and unlike on Facebook, it is often open for the public to see and use. If Facebook continues to gain in popularity and influence, will developers cease pushing its boundaries to build better apps? Who will pressure the Facebooks of the world to keep from commoditizing every bit of data gathered behind their walls?
As the Graph Search rolls out to a wider Facebook audience, maybe it will take off and be so popular it will inspire thousands to build off of it within the rules. Perhaps, the Yandex flap will be sufficient warning to developers that it will stifle innovation of Facebook third-party apps. Either way, it's clear Facebook will not hold back on banning Social Graph related apps.
Because Yandex is a search engine, don't expect to see this feature in Google+ app, but another company could easily build something very similar when that platform opens up. How about a Google Hangout app that voice searches for places to meet up?