While we are very excited by the opportunities of releasing Him, Her and Them as a Facebook App, we quickly realized that there are a number of unorthodox issues with which we will have to contend. Ultimately though we felt that these weren’t show-stoppers, but merely novel challenges that we would have to deal with as we delve into uncharted territory. So as we make our way through the production of HH&T, we hope to share these experiences as they unfold.
Here are the big issues, at least as we see them right now:
1. Facebook isn’t just a walled garden. It’s a walled garden with keepers. This isn’t something we thought too much about until we went to create a Facebook page for the film, and it was summarily rejected. At this point a little back story is necessary: we were originally going to call the film I Like Revenge and for the film’s logo we would use Facebook’s “thumbs up” icon in place of the word “Like”:
We thought it was funny and weird and memorable. However, when it was time to create the Facebook page, we got this message:
Uh oh. Now in the end it turned out that the system rejected the name merely because we had failed to include spaces between the words. We quickly realized this error, but our initial worry was that the name was being rejected because of the word revenge, which theoretically be construed as hateful, and accordingly Facebook does not allow any content that is: “hateful, threatening, defamatory, or pornographic; incites violence; or contains nudity or graphic or gratuitous violence.”
And that got us thinking. First off, we knew we had to change the name. We suddenly had a suspicious feeling that Facebook wouldn’t be thrilled at our appropriation of their famous thumbs up icon. Fair enough. But what about the fact that the film, very abstractly, portrays violence? And how about the fact that there is the very specific and necessary use of a certain expletive within the film? How would Facebook feel about this? Would they care?
Chances are the answer is no. HH&T is clearly done with artistic intentions, and the “cops” at Facebook no doubt have their hands full with the more than 30 billion pieces of content shared each month on the site. Nevertheless, it’s a nagging concern as we move forward. There has been a lot of news over Apple’s diligent/draconian (depending on your viewpoint) policing of their App store. Facebook, much less so. So will we face any issues? We expect not, but who knows? And that right there is the crux of the problem: the unknown and the unknowable.
2. Facebook’s App Directory is pretty lame. Here it is. See for yourself. Again it’s hard to avoid comparison’s to Apple’s robust App store. The directory makes it look like there are a handful of apps when it fact there are thousands. We really wish there was something more compelling that encouraged browsing and serendipity when it came to Facebook Apps.
3. There’s no festival circuit for a film produced as a Facebook App. Yes, many festivals are slowly embracing new media, but there is nothing anywhere near the formalization and process like there is for independent films. We expect this will change over time, and will be doing our part to encourage festivals to figure out how to incorporate digital media and new formats.
4. It’s really hard to create new patterns of behavior. There aren’t many precedents for HH&T, which means that our audience has to first figure out what it is and how to interact with it. I know what half-hour tv show is, or a movie, or for that matter a youtube video. But a Facebook Film? There are all sorts of natural questions (a few of which we will answer soon enough). These are hurdles to usage. It’s simply unavoidable with new formats.
5. Facebook’s Request For Permission just looks scary. It may sound trivial but it’s not. This is the warning screen you get every time you load a new application:
Facebook is alerting you that you are giving the app permission to access your private information. So on the one hand, it’s important that users understand what’s happening. But on the other hand, I’m sure this gives many users pause…do I really want to give this app access to my personal information? Is it really worth it? There must be a better design that clearly illustrates what is happening, without giving the user the negative impression that he or she is about to cross over into some forbidden zone.