How to Build Engaging Apps With Social Networking APIs

Janet Wagner, Data Journalist / Full Stack Developer
Jun. 26 2014, 03:43PM EDT

Very few people these days are unfamiliar with leading social networking platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and LinkedIn. Many developers and other tech industry professionals use social networking sites and applications on a regular, often daily, basis. However, some of those professionals may not be aware of the types of APIs and tools available from the leading social networking platforms. This article looks at some of the APIs, SDKs and tools available from six of the leading social networking companies, as well as a variety of applications and websites that leverage the features of these platforms.

Facebook

The Facebook Developer Center provides SDKs, APIs and other tools that developers can use to integrate Facebook functionality with websites and applications such as Facebook login, sharing buttons, payments and social graph. In April 2013, Facebook acquired Parse, a leading back-end-as-a-service provider offering SDKs for a variety of platforms such as iOS, Android, Windows Phone, JavaScript, Unity and REST. Developers can use the Parse service to quickly and easily create Internet-enabled web, mobile and desktop applications. Facebook has had a pretty busy 2014 so far, releasing Conceal encryption and data authentication Java APIs, announcing the release of an open source version of the Hack programming language, and unveiling new APIs that are part of Facebook's Public Content Solutions program. Below are a few examples of applications that have incorporated Facebook platform features and functionality using Facebook APIs, SDKs and/or tools. 
 

The TripAdvisor Canvas App allows users to create and share their own travel maps.

TripAdvisor

TripAdvisor describes itself as the "world's largest travel site" where users can find a huge community of travelers who offer opinions and reviews on many travel-related topics, such as destinations, accommodations, restaurants and attractions. TripAdvisor also has several apps available, including a Facebook app that lets users create and share maps of places they've been and places they want to visit, as well as rate and share landmarks, museums and other attractions they have visited. TripAdvisor mobile apps and Facebook Canvas App use several Facebook APIs and tools such as Open Graph, Graph API, Facebook Login and Ads for Apps, which can be enabled programmatically using Facebook's marketing APIs. The Graph API and Open Graph are integrated with the TripAdvisor Canvas App, making it possible for users to create and share their own travel maps.

Marvel: Avengers Alliance

Marvel: Avengers Alliance is a game in which players can assemble teams of their favorite Marvel Heroes with the goal being to obtain and use a mysterious force that has landed on Earth. Players can team up with Marvel characters such as the Avengers, Spider-Man, the X-Men and S.H.I.E.L.D. so that this new force found on Earth can be harnessed before Marvel villains such as Dr. Doom and Loki harness the power first. The Marvel: Avengers Alliance Facebook game uses the Graph API and Open Graph, allowing players to post on their timelines game actions and achievements, which are also publicized on the Facebook newsfeed. The game also uses the og:video parameter for the Open Graph object so that short .swf video clips can be integrated into news feed stories.

Hello Hero

Hello Hero is an role-playing game game created by South Korea-based developer Fincon. Hello Hero features more than 300 unique characters that can be selected to join teams that battle evil forces across the planet of Armon. The Hello Hero game uses several APIs and tools provided by Facebook, including SDK for Unity and the Payments API. SDK for Unity allows developers to quickly integrate Facebook social features with games powered by the Unity Game Engine. The Payments API makes it possible for Hello Hero game players to purchase Carats, which are used to buy heroes, stamina, energy, gold and other items that are randomly generated throughout the game.


Foursquare

As of this writing, the Foursquare API consisted of four types of functions: the Core API, Real-time API, Venues Platform and Merchant Platform. The Core API provides programmatic access to nearly the entire Foursquare platform, allowing developers to create applications that incorporate Foursquare check-in, user history, venues, specials, recommendations and more. The Real-time API includes two push APIs that allow applications to display various actions on Foursquare in real time. The Venues Platform allows applications to integrate location information without the need for authentication or deeper Foursquare integration. The Merchant Platform provides developers with a way to manage specials and venue information. Below are several applications and websites that have integrated Foursquare features and functionality using Foursquare APIs and tools.
 

Citymapper provides real-time maps, travel routes and transportation information for complicated cities such as London, New York and Paris.

Citymapper

Citymapper is described on the company website as "the ultimate transport app," giving users real-time urban transport and transit information for complicated cities including London; New York; Paris; Berlin; Boston; Washington, D.C.; Madrid; and Barcelona. Citymapper is a "comprehensive A to B journey planner" providing real-time maps, travel routes and transport information for buses, trains, subways, taxis, bicycles and just about every other mode of city transportation available. The app uses the Foursquare API, specifically the Venues Platform, which includes Suggest Completion Venues functionality (autocomplete). The Suggest Completion Venues feature is used to power the Citymapper search box.

Pinterest

Pinterest is a popular visual discovery website where users can find and collect images, links, videos and more on a variety of topics and interests. Users can create boards that contain "pins" of digital content that has been collected. In November, Pinterest introduced Foursquare-powered place pins, a feature that allows users to create pins that include a map displaying information such as address, phone number, directions for travel destinations and places of interest. Pinterest place pins leverage the Foursquare API Venues platform and database functionality as well as MapBox technology, which can be accessed programmatically using the MapBox API.

Timehop

Timehop is an app that reminds users of the past by displaying old photos and posts from their phones, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Foursquare. Timehop provides a daily reminder of what users were doing, thinking and celebrating on that day in years past. The app uses the Foursquare API check-ins by a user endpoint to retrieve users' Foursquare histories, allowing them to see places where they have "checked in" in the past. The app also utilizes APIs provided by Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.


Google+

Google provides a variety of APIs and tools that developers can use to integrate Google+ platform features with applications such as Google+ Sign-In, Hangouts and sharing plug-ins. Google+ Sign-In is a popular tool used by developers as it allows third-party applications to include cross-device sign-on, automatic Android over-the-air installs, access to profile and social graph and more. Google introduced the Google+ platform Sign-In feature early last year. Below are a few examples of websites and applications that have integrated Google+ platform features and functionality.
 

Shazam can identify music and TV shows in seconds. Image credit: Shazam

Shazam

Shazam is a mobile app that is capable of identifying music and TV shows in seconds. When a user hits the Shazam button, the app creates a digital fingerprint of the music or audio that is being played in the vicinity of the user. The digital fingerprint is matched against the Shazam database containing millions of tracks and TV shows. The app then provides information for the audio such as name of the track, artist, lyrics and video. In addition to identifying music and TV shows, the app allows users to share their discoveries on social networks including Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Google+ and Pinterest. Users can also listen to full tracks using Spotify, Rdio or Deezer; view real-time song lyrics; add Shazamed tracks to a Rdio playlist; and much more. The Shazam app uses the Google+ API so that users can sign in using Google+ and also be able to +1 and share music, TV shows and brands on their Google+ profiles.

Scoot & Doodle on Hangouts

Scoot & Doodle on Hangouts is a web-based collaborative learning tool where up to 10 students and other participants can get together to do brainstorming, sketching, problem solving, prototyping, storytelling and more. Learning sessions are live utilizing face-to-face video via Google Hangouts. Scoot & Doodle on Hangouts uses the Google+ API, specifically the Hangouts API, which allows developers to create apps or extensions that run inside Google+ Hangouts. Hangouts API-driven apps can be designed to allow real-time, interactive face-to-face collaboration of students and teachers, employers and workers, friends and family, from across great distances and in many ways.

Cacoo

Cacoo is a real-time, web-based collaboration tool that lets users create different types of diagrams, such as site maps, flowcharts, mind maps and wire frames. Cacoo for Google+ Hangouts allows participants to share diagrams during a live, face-to-face video chat. Cacoo for Google+ Hangouts uses the Google+ API and Hangouts API to incorporate the video chat functionality of Google+ Hangouts into the app. The Cacoo platform also features an SDK and API that allow developers to seamlessly integrate the Cacoo platform into third-party applications. Last September, ProgrammableWeb reported that Nulab, the Japanese company behind the Cacoo platform, had launched the new Cacoo SDK Edition, which includes a new Cacoo API.


LinkedIn

At the time of this writing, LinkedIn provided both JavaScript and REST APIs with endpoints for People, Share and Social Stream, Groups, Communications, Companies and Jobs. Last month, LinkedIn announced the release of the Rest.li API Hub, an open source REST framework used to build RESTful API architectures. Below are a few applications and websites that have integrated LinkedIn platform features and data using LinkedIn APIs.
 

Evernote Hello helps users remember professional contacts, meetings and more. Image credit: Evernote

Evernote Hello

Evernote Hello is an app that helps users remember work contacts, meetings and other information about people they meet. The app is capable of scanning business cards, adding contacts from LinkedIn and Facebook, and creating a browsable history of meetings and shared experiences. LinkedIn APIs allow Evernote Hello app users to create LinkedIn connections using contact profiles from within the app. The app also lets users share notes with their professional contacts via the LinkedIn platform. In addition to apps like Evernote Hello, the Evernote platform provides SDKs that include the Evernote API, which developers can use to integrate the platform with web, mobile and desktop apps.

Behance

Behance is a platform where artists, web designers and other creatives can build portfolios that display and showcase their best work. Talent recruiters and businesses also use the platform to find individuals with the skills needed to work on projects and to fill open positions. The Behance platform uses LinkedIn APIs so that users can sign in to Behance using their LinkedIn sign-ons, send updates to LinkedIn when new projects are added to their Behance portfolios and include LinkedIn Share buttons on their Behance projects. Behance also provides an API that allows developers to add Behance projects, work in progress, users and more to third-party applications.

Buffer

Buffer is an application that makes it possible for users to manage multiple social media accounts at once from one interface. Buffer can schedule content to be posted on various social networks, shorten URL links included in posts and provide analytics for shortened links. Buffer uses LinkedIn APIs to allow users to post status updates to their LinkedIn profiles. Last September, the company introduced the ability for the Buffer app to post content updates to LinkedIn company pages. This was made possible by the availability of the new LinkedIn Company Pages and Analytics API. An available Buffer API allows developers to incorporate Buffer platform functionality into third-party web and mobile applications.


Pinterest

For quite a while, developers clamored for a Pinterest API to be made publicly available, and late last year, Pinterest finally launched its first official public Pinterest API. Last month, Pinterest launched the new Business Insights API for a select group of marketing technology partners. The Business Insights API helps companies understand the popularity of pins, track current Pinterest trends and glean other Pinterest insights. Pinterest offers several SDKs, APIs and tools that can be used to incorporate Pin It buttons, On Hover Pin It buttons, Rich Pins and more into websites and third-party applications. Below are a few examples of websites that have incorporated Pinterest Pin It buttons, pin statistics and other data.
 

Snapguide users can discover and create how-to guides for their favorite topics.

Snapguide

Snapguide is a platform where users discover and create how-to guides for a variety of topics, including arts and crafts, food, gardening, technology, beauty, sports and fitness, music and games. The platform uses the Pinterest API to display a "Popular on Pinterest" widget in how-to guides on the Snapguide website. For example, the "How to Make Easy Chocolate Cake" guide displays other baked goods that are popular on Pinterest.

Whole Foods

The company website describes Whole Foods as "the world's leader in organic and natural foods" with more than 360 stores located in cities across North America and the United Kingdom. The Whole Foods website uses the Pinterest API to showcase the company's current top pins on Pinterest. Each item displayed on the web page includes a Pin It button and the number of Pinterest repins, likes and comments.

Random House

Random House is described on its website as "the world's largest trade-book publisher," connecting readers around the world to authors of fiction and nonfiction. The company publishes about 10,000 new books (print, digital and audio) every year, and quite a few Random House authors are Nobel Prize laureates and Pulitzer Prize winners. The "Discover Your Next Book" section of the Random House website is powered by the Pinterest API. Each book on the page will display an information box on mouse-over that includes a Pin It button, the number of pins for that book and a discover link that shows more information about the book.


Twitter

Twitter provides APIs, frameworks, widgets and other tools that developers can use to integrate Twitter platform data and functionality into websites and applications. The REST API allows programmatic access to most of the platform's functionality, and the Streaming APIs provide access to real-time Twitter public, user and site streams. In February, ProgrammableWeb published an article taking a look back at seven-plus years of Twitter; its launch in 2006; Twitter's biggest year, 2010; its less-open API in 2012; Twitter's business model and IPO in 2013; and more. In recent months, Twitter acquired data-as-a-service provider Gnip, announced the addition of new API endpoints for mute functionality and provided clues for API partnership success at APIdays Paris. Below are a few examples of applications and websites that use Twitter's APIs to integrate platform functionality and access Twitter data.
 

Hootsuite users can manage multiple social networks, including Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, from the Hootsuite dashboard.

Hootsuite

Hootsuite is a popular social media dashboard platform that allows businesses and individuals to schedule and manage content, monitor and track mentions by keywords, analyze social media traffic and more from across multiple social media networks. Hootsuite is a Twitter-certified product partner, and the platform uses the Twitter REST API and Streaming APIs so that Hootsuite users can manage their Twitter accounts and monitor real-time streams of Twitter data. Hootsuite also incorporates the Twitter Ads API, allowing enterprise users to leverage Twitter Promoted Tweets and Promoted Accounts. The Hootsuite platform is integrated with APIs from other social networks such as LinkedIn, Google+ and Facebook. Hootsuite also provides an App Directory SDK and API that developers can use to create apps for the Hootsuite platform.

Metwit

Metwit is a crowdsourced weather and forecast platform that provides media-rich local weather and environmental data that is hyperlocal and in real time. Metwit app users can report local weather conditions and tag the weather with a Metag (an icon that symbolizes the current weather condition), which can also be shared on Twitter and Facebook. Instagram users can report the weather by adding the #Metwit hashtag to their "geolocalized, real-time weather photos." The Metwit platform uses the Twitter REST API and Streaming APIs so that users can post, tag and share local weather conditions on Twitter as well as view tweets about the weather posted by others. The Metwit platform offers its own API that can be used by developers to incorporate Metwit functionality into third-party applications. In May 2013, ProgrammableWeb reported that Metwit had added push weather notifications to the platform.

Nielsen Social

Nielsen Social is a Twitter-certified product partner and a leading social TV measurement, analytics and audience engagement platform. Using Twitter APIs, Nielsen Social is able to capture and analyze Twitter conversations about programs that aired on more than 250 of the most popular U.S. television networks, including Spanish-language networks airing in the U.S. The data captured using Twitter APIs powers several Nielsen Social products, including Nielsen SocialGuide Intelligence, Nielsen Twitter TV Ratings and Nielsen Twitter TV APIs. In March, ProgrammableWeb reported that Nielsen had announced at SXSW that the company was releasing APIs allowing programmatic access to Nielsen-curated data. At the time of this writing, the Nielsen Twitter API Suite included a Guide API, Streams API, Social Stats API, Most Re-tweeted API, Audience API, Meta Content API and Recommendations API.


Conclusion

Social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest have many millions of active users who discover and share an enormous amount of user-generated content on a daily basis. Most of the social networking platforms highlighted in this article not only provide APIs and tools for developers to incorporate social sharing into their applications but make it possible for applications to leverage many of these social platforms features and functions as well. Using APIs and tools provided by social networking platforms, developers can build many types of innovative applications that feature social sign-ins, streaming real-time social data, social sharing and engagement, and much more. Visit the official websites to find out about the developer programs: Facebook, Foursquare, Google+, LinkedIn, Pinterest and Twitter.

Janet Wagner Janet is a data journalist and full stack developer based in Toledo, Ohio. Her focus revolves around APIs, open data, data visualization and data-driven journalism. Follow her on Twitter: @webcodepro and on Google+

Comments