Developing the Facebook Music Explaura
By user12610620 on Jul 16, 2009
In order to try to get a little more interest in the Music Explaura, I decided that I'd try making a Facebook app that uses some of the data available on Facebook to get you started with your exploration. Facebook would provide the UI and input, and the Search Inside the Music application built on Aura would provide the data. The live system would run on a grid/compute cloud that was developed as a research project inside Sun. I had hoped to pull in and accumulate some of the social data in order to help with the recommendations, but sadly that turned out to be against Facebook's terms of service. Still, when a user runs an app, I can get access to the user's "Favorite Music" in their profile, and I can get access to their friends and their friends' "Favorite Music". This was enough to go on.
I wanted to be able to display my tag cloud on my Profile, so next up was the "Add to Profile" button. I figured that when you click the button, Facebook would request the content of the profile box then insert it. Not so. The Add button (inserted with FBML that Facebook controls the rendering of) doesn't render unless there's already a field set in Facebook with the HTML for the profile box. I want the button to show up when the page loads, but it won't render it unless I've already filled in the data, and I can't fill in the data until the page loads! I needed to get Facebook to render the "Add to Profile" button after I fetched the user's cloud (and had a chance to post the profile markup to Facebook). Since Facebook will render markup in your AJAX results, I added a field to the JSON I return to build the cloud that contains the FBML necessary for creating an "Add to Profile" button. Then I just get that data in the client (now rendered by Facebook) and put it into a DIV for display. Hacky? Yes, but it works!
There were some other interesting issues as well. For example, the Facebook Java API (not actually maintained by Facebook) will return JSON objects for some things, but the format isn't specified. Some calls will return a JSONObject and some a JSONArray, depending on the data returned at runtime. This isn't very helpful when you're trying to cast to the correct type to get at your data. I was also a little surprised to see that Facebook doesn't have any more of a developer "sandbox". I'd love to see something that lets me (or more than one codeveloper at a time) test a dev version of the app without us each having to create a new application listing. It'd also be great to be able to create ad-hoc users (basically profiles that are only accessible by my app) for testing. This would let me have a few users with different bands and compare their tastes without having to create fake Facebook accounts. As it was, I generally tested by changing my own favorite music.
This has turned into a fairly long winded post, so I'll leave it at that for now. Try out the Facebook Music Explaura and see what you think!