More answers about our Facebook app and some thoughts on the techie stuff behind it

Back in May, our special-projects team here at Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive built’s new Facebook app — The Compass.

I wrote a pretty dang long post about it at that time.

I still probably get at least one or two e-mails and/or phone calls about it each week. And I’m surprised how much it still gets blogged about.

One of the questions I often get via e-mail is “would we do it again?”


We’d do it differently, but we’d definitely do it again. And probably not for the reasons people think.

I think more and more traditional media companies ought to do more experimenting and reaching out to sites like Facebook. The experiences and discussions we went through as an organization were hugely valuable.

I feel our industry tends to be isolated from a lot of what’s happening with new media. Working with the “pure dot-coms” (as one of my old bosses used to call them), as well as with other technology companies, really helps us understand how things on the Internet work outside of a newsroom.

And that can only help us if we’re really serious in our mission to reach our audiences however they want to get our content.

Getting out of your comfort zone can only be a good thing when you do it for the right reasons — especially if you work for a newspaper company.

So, what’s been the impact of our Facebook app?

Nominal, if you’re measuring the impact by looking for a direct increase in page views or revenue.

We never once believed that of‘s roughly 40 billion pageviews a month, we were going to start to get a bunch of those at because of The Compass. Our expectations were pretty much in check in that regard.

We did this because we thought we should be in front of Facebook’s huge audience. In many ways, we thought of this as more of a marketing opportunity for the brand.

Still, the numbers for our Facebook app are very respectable. For the first several weeks, The Compass was one of the Top 10 most-downloaded apps on Facebook, and even cracked the Top 5 a couple of times.

As of today, The Compass has about 300,000 Facebook users who have it on their profile page, which still puts it in the Top 50 most-downloaded Facebook apps.

So, what would we do differently?

In our description of the app on Facebook, the first sentence begins: “All in fun …” but some people took the app very seriously.

Armed with that knowledge, we would now give the app’s users at least two options for the political quiz, and possibly even three. This still wouldn’t fix some of the criticisms of the app, but we would feel a lot better about it.

When you install The Compass Facebook app, you get asked 10 questions that are basically the hot-button issues surrounding conservative and liberal views in the United States. We opted for a short quiz with 10 questions because we thought readers wouldn’t want to spend a ton of time answering questions.

If we can find some time to tweak this app, it will likely have at least two quizzes in the updated version — a shorter quiz like it currently has, and a much longer quiz that gets into more detail. A possible third survey option might be tied to current events and prompt those who pick that option to retake the quiz each time it is updated.

We really like the idea of having a constantly updated quiz that could then track your thoughts throughout the year on various current issues.

Another thing we would do if we update the app would be to ask each person how he or she would classify themselves, and then have The Compass compare the self-evaluation with the answers to their questions.

But probably the biggest change we would likely make to the app would be how it appears on the Facebook profile pages.

The way the app works now, after you answer the survey, it places a graphic of a compass on your page that shows where you fall between liberal and conservative.

As I mentioned earlier in this post, an updated version would also show where you thought you should be on the compass based on the self-evaluation question we would ask when you first installed the app.

But as we suspected when we were building the app — and as the last few months have kind of proven to us — the most interesting part of The Compass isn’t so much where you fall on the political spectrum but where the friends in your social network fall.

You see, one of the options for The Compass is to see this info for your friends who have taken the quiz, which is much more interesting on a ton of levels.

As I noted in my initial post about this app, the ability to integrate something like this on Facebook in a way that leverages the social network is what makes it cool. That, to me, was the genius of the Facebook Platform app, and it was what we thought was the most interesting part about trying to build something for Facebook.

The map is the coolest part of the app, and we should have made an option that would allow the folks who installed The Compass to choose what they wanted on their profile page — the graphic of where they stand politically or the map of where there friends stand.


But not all of the questions we get regarding our Facebook app center around the philosophies behind it.

Many are much more practical … as in, “so just how did you actually build this thing.”

And I now have a much easier answer for those questions.

Go read a couple of recent blog posts by our team’s brilliant programmer, Deryck Hodge.

In these posts on his personal site, Deryck gets into a lot of the technical details of how The Compass app was built.

Deryck’s first post about our development on the Facebook Platform came shortly after we launched The Compass, and was titled: Washington Post and Facebook Platform Development.

His most recent (and detailed) post came back in June, simply called: Washington Post and Facebook, Part Two.

He ends that post by saying he will try write a little more about this subject when he gets the time. But with the launch of our new site,, it looks like he hasn’t had a lot of extra time to write for his blog.

None of us have had much time for anything other than Loudoun.

Anyway, I hope this helps. And I can tell you that I become a bigger and bigger Facebook fan everyday. I really like the site and all of the thought that has gone into it.

Our team will definitely be doing much more with Facebook in the coming months, I assure you.

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Dad. Journalist. Nerd. Music lover. Baseball fan. Puckhead.