On Wednesday last week Facebook introduced new technologies designed to integrate Facebook and the rest of the web. Essentially Facebook want to change the way we use the web. That’s quite an ambitious task.
So what are they proposing?
Facebook wants people and their social connections, what the company calls the social graph, to inform how information is searched, presented and shared online.
In his keynote presentation at Facebook’s F8 developer conference, Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook’s co-founder and CEO) said that the Web today exists mostly as a series of unstructured links between pages. By providing Web publishers and developers with code that taps the Facebook social graph, he argues that the Web can become more personal and more semantically meaningful.
How are they going to achieve this?
- Social Plugins, these allow websites to add Facebook-style social interaction to their site, such as “like”
- The Open Graph Protocol, a way to let Facebook users add external Web pages to their profiles
- The Graph API, a rewrite of Facebook's core code to allow easier development on the Facebook platform.
Ok, so if you’re like me and more interested in the effect of technology rather than technology itself that all sounds quite impenetrable – but number one is probably the most interesting if you’re in marketing or communications.
So what effect will Social plugins have on organisations? Here’s an example from Mr Zuckerburg himself:
"You’ll begin seeing “Like,” or in some cases “Recommend,” buttons appearing on popular websites spanning a variety of industries, including NYTimes.com, IMDb, CNN.com, TIME.com, LIFE.com, Fandango, NHL.com, USA Networks, Levis.com, Univision and ABC.com.
For example, if I like a pair of jeans on Levis.com, my action will be shared with my friends on Facebook, where they can comment on it. I can also see which of my friends like the jeans on Levis.com."
That last sentence is key “I can also see which of my friends like the jeans on Levis.com “. This provides an interesting opportunity for many charities, which have set up public Facebook Fan pages - it provides a way to turn their existing web sites into a Facebook Fan Page.
Robert Scoble sums it up nicely by saying “Essentially it minimizes the need for a “public” fan page” (Inside Facebook explains in more detail why this is true).
Many people, including myself are predicting that we’re going to become so used to Facebook’s new social features and that a website that doesn’t have Facebook “like” on it will seem weird sooner than we think.
With over 400 million active users, Facebook could well become the dominant identity and content sharing system. It's certainly cheap, faster and perhaps more culturally acceptable to drop Facebook code into web pages than to build a bespoke system with social features from scratch.
What's we don’t know is how this dependence might adversely effect organisations in the future. Who owns the relationship between the users and the organisation? What about the eCRM impact, can we talk to them directly? What if Facebook turn evil? But what I’m really interested in is, with Facebook looking to take over search and referral with the introduction of social - what will Google do now?