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Facebook Context Cards give iPhone users new ways to interact with friends

Someone with an Apple iPhone like the one seen in this photograph could have fun using Context Cards while attending an event.
Someone with an Apple iPhone like the one seen in this photograph could have fun using Context Cards while attending an event.
Photo by Ben A. Pruchnie/Getty Images

On Wednesday, May 14 Karissa Bell of Mashable reported that Facebook is introducing a new feature called Context Cards that gives mobile users new ways to interact with people they know. At least for the time being, Context Cards are only available for Apple iOS devices, such as the iPhone or iPad. Context Cards are rolling out gradually, so iPhone users in the greater Spokane area may not be able to try it out yet even though it is already available in some parts of the U.S. Bell gave an overview of how it works.

According to Bell, "The new feature, part of an app update rolling out to users Wednesday, will surface cards that reveal relevant posts from friends when you check in at a location or post an activity update, such as watching a movie or traveling to a new city. The cards will appear over your News Feed after you update your status and will only display a few relevant posts at once.

"If you check in at a restaurant, for example, the card might display a list of friends who have also checked in there or photos of the restaurant posted by other users. If you post an update about listening to a new song or reading a book, the card might show friends who have also listened to the song or read the book, and what they had to say about it."

Basically, the "cards" are boxes on the user's screen that show relevant information, such as the names of two or three friends who share an interest or names of people with upcoming birthdays. If someone posts about a location, there might be a card providing a handy shortcut to pictures taken by friends at the same location. Justin Lafferty of Inside Facebook gave a few more details of how it works.

According to Lafferty, "A Facebook spokesperson explained this new feature: 'These cards can help you discover information about where you are or what to do next, or inspire conversations with your friends around you. This feature respects all existing privacy settings, and the card will only show you information that you could already see elsewhere on Facebook.'

"The feature also injects some color into the Facebook app. Within these new info cards, friends’ birthdays will be shown in blue (and include a prompt to write on their timeline), location information red, photos yellow."

On Wednesday, May 14 Josh Constine of TechCrunch described some of the potential benefits of Context Cards. He seems to think that the feature could encourage people to do more than they have before with their Facebook News Feeds.

"The cards make News Feed feel alive," Constine said. "By reacting to what’s top of mind for users, Facebook could unlock new utility, entertainment, and monetization potential."

Constine compared Facebook Context Cards to a similar feature offered by Twitter. His product review suggests that Facebook's new feature would be more useful than Twitter's to iPhone owners in the Spokane area.

According to Constine, "Facebook’s cards go a step further than Twitter’s by not just rendering in-line media you’ve shared, but suggesting what you might want to see next. They won’t answer your burning questions like Google Now, but that’s because Facebook isn’t fundamentally a search experience, it’s a content relevance engine. It’s goal is to show you things you’ll be interested in. In that sense, Facebook’s cards might be best compared to the suggestions of nearby places that Foursquare provides."

Constine added that he sees other potential uses that could be beneficial both for individual users and for businesses. He offered some suggestions about how Context Cards could be used for targeted advertising.

According to Constine, "Imagine getting recommendations for nearby businesses after you check in at the park. This isn’t happening yet, but it seems like a reasonable next step that could be an attack on Foursquare.

"While Facebook is currently analyzing the structured content of posts to fuel its card suggestions, eventually it might weigh more contextual signals like your location, the time of day, or the sensors on your device like the accelerometer. Facebook can’t read our minds, but with contextual cards, it could read our posts and other signals to predict what we’ll want to connect with next."

Context Cards could provide mobile Facebook fans with some fun new ways to communicate with their friends. Based on the sample images included with the articles by Bell, Constine, and Lafferty the user interface is clear and simple and it should be easy to use.

A potential down side is that privacy-minded people in the Spokane area may not want to be targeted by businesses in the way that Constine described. Some users in the community may view it as something of a mixed blessing. On the one hand, they would get fun stuff they do want to see. On the other hand, they might not appreciate feeling like Big Brother is watching them and recommending a certain brand of wine or telling them what they should do next while out on a date. It will be interesting to see if the feature catches on in the Lilac City.