Web default to social

There is a lot of buzz out there right now about the “new” Facebook. Facebook just announced that they are starting their journey towards becoming the social center of the web at the Facebook developers’ conference in San Francisco two days ago. The new components to the Facebook platform show a move towards a connection-based Web, from being a destination site to a distributed site, and a gradual shift from search to more sharing (like Twitter’s retweet and Google’s buzz), and from lesser privacy to more personalization.

Basically three major changes were announced:

  • Like button: the social plugin allows website owners to embed a like button to their webpage. With one click users share their approval, or likes, with their friends on Facebook. Stories about the “likes” are published on the newsfeed and on the user profiles. Users don’t have to be logged in to Facebook, the likes are automatically syndicated to the users profile. Levis is one of the first companies to adopt this plugin right away. On its website Levis promotes the “friends store” for “like-minded shopping” with what has the potential to become the Web’s new slogan “Declare your likes”! Users can declare their likes towards a particular pair of Levis jeans, say the low skinny something jeans and see who else also shares that enthusiasm. But do I really care that a girl named Chloe Hanson also likes the same pair of jeans? Maybe, time will tell. At least it is taking the whole friend concept to another level. Surely many people care about what their friends like, and I guess even what strangers like. But what about products that nobody likes? And what kind of taste hierarchies will evolve out of it? As it looks right now, you can see how many people also like the same product but not who these people are unless they are your friends on Facebook. The like button is really a major effort to follow the users around the Web. Facebook isn’t satisfied with being the principal destination site of the web anymore, rightfully taking its measures of precaution. While many previous social networking sites had to see their users move on to the next big thing, introducing a like button for the entire web is Facebook’s way of franchising, or as Mashable puts it: “Rather than aiming to be the coolest bar in town — and losing its clientele when they leave for a hipper spot — Facebook plans to become the Starbucks of the web, with a Like button on every corner.” What’s more is the simplification of embedding such functionality by adding a simple iframe snippet to a line of html. This social plugin also plays a decisive role in the other major announcement of Facebook.
  • Open Graph: This protocol allows developers to see the social connection between people and their interests. The idea is that a person or object is defined by the other people/things they’re connected to. So what the open graph model aims for is not only to connect people with people but also people with things. Every web service does its own social mapping of its users. Pandora maps taste in music and Yelp maps business recommendations. Instead of creating multiple social graphs, the open graph allows for mapping the connections on top of each other, feeding participating services with social interest data across sites and back to Facebook. So whereas user tastes and interests previously would surface on the stream without Facebook holding on to it, now this data is stored and permanently available on Facebook, and maybe more importantly, also stored and accessible across the web. In the first instance the open graph protocol launches with 30 partners, including Pandora, Yelp, CNN and IMDB. For instance, clicking the like button on a movie page on IMDB makes it show up on Facebook’s user profiles, search results and news feed. So if you click like for the movie ‘The Rock’ on its IMDB page it will automatically show up as part of you favorite movies on your personal Facebook profile. Essentially Facebook is looking to become an identity aggregator for its users, or simply the user identity center of the web.
  • Graph API: This is a redesign of Facebook’s core API making it simpler for developers to use the Facebook platform.

It will remain to be seen what these changes actually mean for the users, publishers and the competition. However that Facebook is trying to move in the direction towards a semantic web, or at least a more semantically aware web is evident. In the competition for user eyeballs and user information, Facebook has taken a large step in pushing its biggest competitor Google aside. Whether Google or Facebook, the fact that we are dealing with companies that increasingly own and ever-expand on accumulating user data repositories should be worrisome.

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