Facebook for iPhone 3.5 Hitting 50M DAU, Ports Recent Privacy Changes, Still Includes Check-Ins

Facebook yesterday released version 3.5 of its Facebook for iPhone mobile app. The update includes many of the new privacy, friend tagging, and location features that were added to the web interface two weeks ago. Users can also now post rich feed stories with thumbnails and captions by copying links into the publisher or tapping “Share” in the web view.

Despite Facebook saying it would shift Places from focusing on check-ins to applying location as a layer, users can still view the Places check-in feed and map. However, now these features show all friends who’ve recently tagged a Place in an update, even if they were discussing somewhere they’d been or plan to go and not their current location.

On August 23rd, Facebook announced an overhaul of its privacy settings, bringing controls in-line with content. The changes have since rolled out to the web interface for most users, but now Facebook has begun porting the changes to its mobile interfaces starting with its most popular mobile app. Facebook for iPhone grew 2.4 million daily active users this month and today will  reach 50 million DAU.

The mobile site m.facebook.com now includes the revamped publisher, and an updated privacy settings page. The iPhone app offers access to the privacy setttings page through its internal browser so users can set default post privacy, past post privacy, and whether they must approve tags before they appear on their profile. The Android, BlackBerry, and other mobile apps still lack the new publisher.

Location, Friends, and Privacy in the Publisher

When iPhone users go to add a status update, they’ll see their city-level location as determined by their IP and other signals at the bottom left of the publisher. They can tap this or the Places button to reveal the option to remove city-level location, tag an existing Place, or add and tag a new Place. Specific location tags are appended to the end of the update as “- at [Place]”. Photos can also be added to any update.

Previously a major deficiency of the iPhone app compared to the Android app was the inability to tag friends in updates. Now users can select to tag friends in posts by tapping the friends button, with the tags appended to the update as “- with [name]”. Upon opening the tag selector they’re first presented with “Recents” for easy access to their closest friends, as well as a search option and a browsable list of all their friends.

A gear icon reveals the audience the post will reach, whether thats “Public”, “Friends”, a custom audience, or one of their friend lists. This feature is very streamlined, and actually requires several fewer clicks than the web interface to select to post to a friend lists. It should make it easier for users to share wider variety of content by being able to restrict its visibility to those for whom its relevant and appropriate.

Rich Link Sharing

The update notes for Facebook for iPhone 3.5 note that this version “Added the ability to share external links from a web view.” This means that when users are browsing the internet through the app’s internal browser, the can now tap a forward and then a Share button to initiate a status update linking to the currently viewed URL.

What’s more interesting is how Facebook now formats these links. Previously, links posted through the iPhone publisher appears as simple hyperlinks. Now, whether through the Share button or by copying and pasting a URL into the publisher, Facebook converts URLs into rich feed posts that include a headline, caption, and thumbnail image the same way URLs are formatted when pasted into the web interface’s publisher. This lets users create much more compelling stories out of URLs that attract more clicks. This could help Facebook drive more referral traffick and become more important to web publishers.

All Location Tags are Now Check-Ins

After a year of users announcing their current location as verified by GPS proximity through check-ins, Facebook confirmed with us that it would scrap the check-in feed and map. This was because users would now be able to any add location to any post no matter their current coordinates. We criticized this decision because the feed and map of just current locations had made it easy to find nearby friends and arrange meet-ups.

In this iPhone update, the check-in feed and map are still available, except now they feature any friend who’s added location to a post, regardless of whether they were currently at that Place or not. If users click the Check-In button or go to tag a Place in a status update, they’re prompted “Where are you”, indicating that Facebook hasn’t quite sorted out whether location tags and check-ins are the same thing.

As users change their behaviors and start tagging Places they aren’t currently at, the feed and map will become confusing because it will show a friend at local restaurant when they’re actually across the country but had just posted a recommendation tagging the eatery. While its value will diminish as users adopt the new location capabilities, this stay of execution of the Places feed and map should come as good news to those like me who use the features to find clusters of friends on the weekends.

With the 3.5 update, Facebook for iPhone now approaches parity with most of the web interface’s core features. Of the recent privacy changes, the only thing noticibly lacking is the option to change the privacy settings of previously published content on a post-by-post basis. With the basic functionality, Facebook can now concentrate on prepping the iPhone app to be compatible with its HTML5 mobile site that could offer gaming that is expected to launch at the f8 developer conference later this month.