At the recent f8
conference, Facebook announced an audacious initiative
to route all user interactions with web sites
through Facebook. People attending the conference were stunned at the scope and ambition of the announcements
Facebook announced new tools, widgets, and APIs for web sites to enable social interaction
on that site. People can "like" objects, and find out what their friends "liked" on those sites. Further, sites can mark up the objects which people like, to provide information which could be used semantically. In return, the web site is enabled socially, powering things such as better personalization, engagement, brand building, and traffic via Facebook.
As All Facebook says, this move gives a leg up to Facebook in building a semantic search engine
. Other commentators
point out that it allows Facebook to know about what its users consume all over the web. This sets up Facebook to become a big gateway to the rest of the web. There is also evidence that Facebook is already very influential in deciding the news people consume
, and it will only get better as web sites and users embrace the new platform.
Most web site owners know that Lord Google controls who finds you. You've probably spent hours following arcane SEO rituals from sects and preachers all over the web in order to propitiate Lord Google
into disproportionately noticing you and rewarding you. Surely, some competition is long overdue into making them more open?
The BIG problem with Facebook is that they are a walled garden. Google built its search engine based on data which anyone else could access, viz., html with hyperlinks. That's what allows search engines like bing
to compete with them. However, Facebook controls all this new social interaction data, and is a very jealous possessor. When someone tried to crawl publicly accessible information about people and their connections, they were shut down by Facebook
. Basically, information created by Facebook's users - their identity, their interests, their connections - is off limits in an aggregate manner to anyone but Facebook. With the new platform
, Facebook is effectively building a huge wall around certain portions of the web, and controlling ownership of some very powerful information, namely, how people are consuming media across the web. If successful, they can become unassailable to their competition.
What does Google - and by extension, the rest of the web - do now? I think that Google, especially, has been very neatly corralled. Their various attempts at building social products - i.e., put a real identity to a user - have faltered. Even Yahoo is not as good in this as Facebook.
I think that the only non-legislative solution for the rest of the web is through adoption of open standards. Brad Fitzpatrick, the brilliant maven who gave us LJ amongst other things, took a crack at this problem
by automatically creating the social graph
of people by leveraging existing information. It doesn't seem to have much traction, though, perhaps because it relies too much on data being marked up semantically. Another interesting proposal to keep an eye on is open like
, which, unfortunately, just sends data to the walled garden of your choice.
As more and more people realize that they've given up control of a very core aspect of themselves, namely, their identity and real world connections, to a corporate entity, there is bound to be backlash. At the least, I would demand greater portability of *my* information.
All in all - a game played well by Facebook, but with very scary repercussions both other companies and people like us.