Today, Facebook announced a new treat for developers: the capability to use something called “flexible sentences” when their apps communicate with Facebook on your behalf.
Already, apps can use fairly descriptive language in Open Graph. For example, RunKeeper can tell the world you ran 15.1 miles; Goodreads can share that you read two books and added Twilight: Breaking Dawn to your bookshelf. But flexible sentences take app communications to a whole new level of specificity.
With flexible sentences, as Facebooker Jiangbo Miao explained today on the company blog, apps can now use better language to describe what in-app actions actually do (e.g., Songkick lets you “track” bands, but what does a “track” really mean? Now, Songkick can post to your profile that you “tracked Def Leppard to get concert alerts”).
Also, devs can use flexible sentences to avoid awkward sentence construction. In the new feature’s documentation, Facebook gives an example for a social hiking app. Steve could hike a specific path called Dead Man’s Trail, and Social Hike could post to his wall, “Steve hiked Dead Man’s Trail on Social Hiking.” But if no path is specified, the app might post, “Steve hiked a hike on Social Hiking.” With flexible sentences, devs will now have more options to smooth out those rough edge cases, such as construction, tenses, and attribution (e.g., “via”/”on”/”in” Social Hiking):
Basically, developers are getting more options and richer syntax for letting their apps programmatically talk to Facebook. The statements apps make on your profile can now be more descriptive, interesting, accurate, and human.
“Most stories will continue to be worded properly without needing to use flexible sentences,” a Facebook spokesperson said. This functionality is only available for custom actions and will not work with built-in actions, which are intended to provide a consistent experience across all instances. If you modify your existing actions, you will need to resubmit your actions for approval via the App Dashboard.
Flexible sentences is available today for developers, and we’re beginning to rollout the new story formats for users. To learn more about working with flexible sentences, please see our documentation.
Facebook first announced Actions, its big plan to bring verbs other than “Like” to the Facebook news feed, back at f8 in September 2011. At that time, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg admitted that the network’s vocabulary was limited and previewed some other activities that would be shared on Facebook in the future — listening to music, reading books, watching TV shows, hiking trails. A lot more than just “liking.”
It’s a small update, but it’s one that will make both developers and grammarians alike a little bit happier.