Last week Facebook held its long awaited f8 conference and I realized why I hadn’t been hearing too much from them lately. They’d been merely planning the takeover of the social Web. In fact, I hadn’t planned on tuning into the videocast of f8 until I started seeing the tweets roll in about the significance of the changes that Facebook was making. The biggest news coming out of the keynote was the announcement of the new “Like” button and its accompanying Open Graph. The Like concept had already been telegraphed out when Facebook began to replace “Fan” with “Like” earlier this month, but this announcement added a whole lot more Like to like. Starting pretty much with the keynote, Facebook made code available to partner sites, (and soon after to anyone else), that allowed them to put a very simple Like button on any page of their site. Here’s an example from IMDB’s page for the movie Avatar:
You can see my name and Facebook image on the lower right side of the page. They are there because I had previously “Liked” this page and when I returned to get this screen grab I was recognized, through Facebook, on this page. If any of my Facebook friends were to visit they would see a similar view. If they decided to “like” the page I would then see their names and images next time I visited. So the “Like” button creates a kind of “stumble-into-and-around” approach to you and your friends’ preferences on the Web. And what I’m sure you’ve already figured out is that these preferences are also communicated to your Facebook profile becoming part of your Facebook identity.
While the “Like” button is all about building a new, frictionless ubiquity for Facebook, the Open Graph is about creating a vast connective tissue that is both brilliant and troubling at the same time. The idea behind the Open Graph is that rich information can be shared between Facebook and other previously closed third party applications on the Web. For example if you subscribe to the music service Pandora or the review site Yelp, Facebook's Instant Personalization will allow those sites to create personalized experiences based on your friends and maybe even their preferences. Its also easy to imagine that this same information, in the form of recommendations, comments, reviews and likes will also filter back to your Facebook profile to build a bigger and richer data set around your preferences.
In a more recent development Facebook took a potentially huge step by beginning to issue decals to locations such as restaurants and museums. The decals, as seen above, will give visitors the ability to “like” the location via text. Texting your like through this system will likely appear both on the restaurant’s Facebook page and in your profile. It’s easy to imagine that if this catches on more and more locations will be incented to build their Facebook presence to capture these votes of support. Which will drive more and more Facebook pages and more activity. These “location-based likes” may be the geo-location strategy that was rumored but never announced at f8.
With the Like button and Open Graph Facebook has created a seamless integration between individual online preferences, the Facebook profile and multiple applications. There is a lot to like about this new interconnected social Web. Web sites and social applications will be happy because of the potential for Facebook to drive more traffic to their sites. Sites could even enhance visitor experience by using profile data to deliver custom content for new visitors. Marketers will love it since it creates an enormous opportunity for greater personalization of communications and messaging based on personal preferences. Most of all Facebook will love it because it will make it the hub of an ever-growing social architecture on the Web.
But there is also a big problem. The Open Graph creates an ever growing store of potentially private information. Will your new and more data-rich Facebook profile be more embarrassing than those party pictures you took down last month? Privacy is a big and evolving issue online. Standards and opinions are constantly shifting along with Facebook’s privacy settings. Some, including Mark Zuckeberg, believe that we are now willing to accept a new level of openness and sharing. Others, including some in the government, are not so sure and urge caution.
What I can say for certain is that Like and Open Graph belong to Facebook and Facebook can pretty much do what it wants to do with Facebook. Even if it means one of the biggest social media experiments online to date. Maybe that’s what “Zuck” meant when he said that with these changes the “Web is going to get a whole lot better”. It’s certainly going to get better for Facebook and for marketers but it remains to be seen if it is going to improve the experience for Facebook’s nearly 500 million users. I applaud Facebook for having the vision to create something this powerful on such a massive scale and I'm looking forward to seeing where it goes. On the other hand I’m regularly making sure that my privacy settings are updated.