Facebooking the Web: Opportunities and Threats

I have mixed feelings about Facebook’s new Open Graph Protocol. More on that in a moment, but here’s the quick summary, right from the Open Graph documentation:

The Social Graph is made of three basic components:

The Graph API, which is an open protocol allowing web designers to make website pages more “facebooky”. Setting this up is pretty easy, just add meta data information to your pages as defined in the developer’s guide, and Facebooks’s spiders do the rest. Here’s a sample bit of code from Facebook:

<html xmlns:og="http://opengraphprotocol.org/schema/"
xmlns:fb="http://www.facebook.com/2008/fbml">
<head>
<meta property="og:title" content="The Rock"/>
<meta property="og:type" content="movie"/>
<meta property="og:url" content="http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0117500/"/>
</head>
...
</html>

What’s in it for FB? Mostly a salvo against Google in the search space, once Zuck and crew enable advanced searching functions on the above meta data.

Social Plugins allow web developers and designers to easily add Facebook objects to web pages. Imagine “Liking” your favorite sports team’s website, and you have the gist of it. The Like button in the graphic above is one example, as is a social bar which makes any web page “social”, according to Facebook.

What’s in it for FB? Enabling website operators to add social elements easily is laudable, but of course Facebook’s real goal is to create the world’s largest database of preferences. Not just preferences in Facebook, but all over the web. The best part is their cost of doing so is zero since they’re distributing the work to everyone on the web. Brilliant strategy.

Docs.com is the third piece, and is Facebook-Microsoft’s joint project enabling social sharing of  Microsoft office docs with your Facebook friends. To use it, sign up at Docs.com.

What’s in it for FB? The official answer is it gives both Facebook and Microsoft a competitive product rivaling Google Docs. But the real goal here is to extend Facebook beyond the web and onto your desktop.

Opportunities and Threats

  • Actionable Recommendations.  Facebook “likes” were fun but useless. Until they enable discovery of new web content. Pandora.com now uses Likes to allow you to discover new music similar in style to those which you prefer. I’m sold – the new Pandora is awesomely accurate. That said, authenticate users your site “owns” via Facebook makes them no longer your users, right? On a related note, finding a coworker’s open Facebook page and liking questionable content is a great prank.
  • Social CRM Perhaps Google is threatened by Facebook, but salesforce.com‘s management should really be concerned. Facebook’s move likely to enable what many are calling “Social CRM”. Part of the reason my company uses Highrise as a CRM system in our company is it ties in contact social graph information automatically, without much data entry. Imagine using a CRM system where you look up contacts rather than manually entering them as you do now. Open Graph positions Facebook perfectly to dominate the next generation of CRM.
  • Weak Links Paradox Many of us have “friended” people we don’t know on Facebook because we simply want to be polite and sociable, but OpenGraph allows your friends to share some personal information outside of Facebook. That means some jackass who you barely know could expose your info without you knowing about it. Some are already pulling back their adding weak links to their social graph – and isn’t the strength of weak links the whole point of Facebook?
  • Single Point of Failure. The Interwebs is grounded in the idea of routing past single points of failure, however adding Facebook objects to every web page increases reliance on a single point of failure. Disconnect there. Besides, building a business on a social graph you do not control is asking for trouble.

Final Thought

If you’re going to integrate Social Plugins on your site, Facebook provides step by step instructions to adding Like buttons here. But beware, some buttons are evil…

Edit: Chris Messina also chimes in with this excellent post identifying the problem of a single point of failure for web content.

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