The f8 Preview: How Facebook Plans to Take Over the Web

103 Comments

Mark Zuckerberg @ SXSW 2008 by Deney Terreio via Flickr

Facebook’s third f8 developer conference kicks off tomorrow in San Francisco and online, with the social networking company likely to announce what is essentially a game plan to not only socialize the web, but to marginalize the pre-social web. But while such a plan indicates a tussle with fellow upstart Twitter, the real battle is Facebook vs. Google.

And it’s a battle that, armed with its game plan and 400 million (and growing) subscribers, Facebook is going to turn into an all-out war. As I wrote last week, the company’s vision of the Internet is one connected to Facebook’s brain via hooks — and four of those hooks are expected to be unveiled at f8:

  • Facebook Connect 2.0 with auto-login features
  • Facebook Presence Bar
  • Share/Like buttons
  • Facebook Location

Log Me In, Baby

The first hook will be a souped-up version of Facebook’s digital identity offering, Facebook Connect, which allows you to sign into a site like Hacker News using your Facebook credentials after you are sent to an additional window asking you to connect your accounts. Later this week, that sign-in form will vanish and be replaced by an auto-login. (This painless sign-in might be the reason Apple is said to be looking to integrate Facebook Connect in its iTunes store.)

Does this remind you of the dreaded and draconian Beacon advertising system, where your actions at commercial web sites were automatically logged into the Facebook system and shared on your feed? Well to me it does, and I sincerely hope the company has taken enough steps to ensure the privacy settings of its subscribers. Facebook’s continuing tweaks to its privacy settings indicate a company extremely nervous about a backlash over privacy. A rival camp that includes search giant Google is offering a more open version of such a log-in method, as Liz reported.

Presence Is Everything

The social networking giant is also said to be pursuing a way to give itself a unique presence on partner web sites, in the form of a toolbar. The New York Time describes it by saying:

Facebook is also planning to offer a toolbar that Web sites will be encouraged to place at the bottom of their pages. The toolbar will build on Facebook Connect, a service the company introduced in 2008, allowing people to use their Facebook identities to log into various sites. The toolbar will be easier for publishers to use and may encourage more users to log in. Facebook engineers were still working on the feature, and it was not clear if it would be introduced at the conference.

Up until now, Facebook has shown up on partner web sites as a widget, but that doesn’t help the company understand its users’ engagement on those sites. Since a toolbar is more portable in that it travels from page to page, it will provide Facebook with further intelligence that it can add to its system. Expect to see Facebook IM and easy sharing to the Facebook social graph be part of this toolbar as well.

About three years ago, I wrote that social networking was nothing more than a feature:

The social networking is simply embedding itself into services, like say MOG or Last.fm. They are not social networks in the classic sense – aka like Bebo or Facebook or MySpace – but they essentially are social networks. They use the technology to enhance online experiences, which are the things we want to be doing. After all, life doesn’t happen, online or off, inside a MySpace page.

Replace MySpace with Facebook and the argument still stands.

Like This

Facebook Connect and the Toolbar can enable the rest of the web to act like a Facebook page, with each social app using Facebook’s familiar “share” and “like” buttons. By hitting the share or like button, you and I are explicitly saying that a certain page meets our approval and thus be relevant to our social circles. This is a much smarter way to organize the web, which means that Facebook can now look at taking a bite out of Google’s search business.

As Liz wrote in earlier this year:

“We want these actions to become possible wherever they’re most natural,” said [Facebook platform engineering head, Mike] Vernal. Soon, using the company’s announced open graph API, users will be able to become a fan of any page on the Internet. The API essentially turns a regular web page into a Facebook page, giving it the ability to collect fans, publish stories to their Facebook stream, and appear in the social networking site’s search results.

That little action could initiate a huge shift. On the one hand, becoming a fan of a web page rather than a Facebook page gives power back to sites so they can host their own experiences instead of sending people to someone else’s URL (aka facebook.com/absolut). On the other, it gives Facebook an immense amount of information about what people like, and could allow the company to reorganize the web via a kind of next generation of Google PageRank — call it “FriendRank.”

Location, Check-in, Location

Facebook's Incredible March (Click to get a bigger version of the graphic

Finally, it is widely expected that Facebook is going to announce some kind of location capability at f8. By adding place tagging, in one fell swoop, they could gain the largest single userbase for updates tagged with location. The check-in behavior popularized by the likes of FourSquare would become more easily usable for its more mainstream audience. This was the approach Twitter announced at its own developer conference last week.

But as users start adding location context to Facebook data, there will be more opportunities to make use of social actions married to geo-location. Aggregating people around location will make it much easier for people to socialize and interact offline. It also opens up the opportunity to go after the lucrative local market, another place to compete directly with Google. Facebook could soon have pages for every local restaurant and hair salon, accompanied by user likes, shares and comments and enabling offline businesses to have closer ties with their users. That would give Yelp a run for their money, too.

So What’s It All About?

As GigaOM friend Pip Coburn, who runs an investment advisory firm, often says, it’s not the data, but what you do with that data — and what you infer from it — that really matters. Facebook is doing precisely that. It knows that the social graph is of no use unless there’s real value in the information it contains.

After all, the social graph exists in the real world. It’s called relationships. By going to dinners, attending bar mitzvahs and sending greeting cards and gifts we add more meaning to those relationships. The online social graph’s real value is derived from relationships not only among individuals but the relationships they have with places, things and activities. Their actions — sharing or liking — place a value on those relationships.

The four “hooks” expected at f8 are part of Facebook’s plan to give the web a deeper semantic structure. Such a social understanding and organization is very different from the way Google organizes information through inferred trust using PageRank.

Facebook isn’t the first company to realize that the only way to beat Google is with this people-centric web approach. About five years ago, when Yahoo still believed in itself, the company proposed an idea for a socially organized web. It even launched a rudimentary version of the service, only to fritter such an opportunity away.

So why is Facebook doing all this? For the money. By optimizing the social graph and using distributed tools, Facebook is hoping to increase user engagement. More time spent interacting with its site and the sites it effectively powers will translate into more money-making opportunities.

Facebook’s combination of audacity and ability is admirable and at the same time, a little scary. To those who view it as the 21st century version of the online ghetto called AOL, you’re underestimating this gang. If Mark Zuckerberg and his troops execute on their plan, the web is going to be a lot different. I believe that Facebook will rival Google’s current domination of the search and online advertising business. These guys are ruthless, unrelenting and singleminded in their quest for success. [digg=http://digg.com/tech_news/The_f8_Preview_How_Facebook_Plans_to_Take_Over_the_Web]

With additional reporting from Liz Gannes.

Related content from GigaOM Pro (sub req’d):

Social Advertising Models Go Back to the Future

Why Google Should Fear the Social Web

Photo of Mark Zuckerberg @ SXSW 2008 courtesy of Flickr user Deney Terreio

103 Comments

UPSET

This is an atrocious clearcut of the last shrapnel of our existing privacy. Facebook will effectively rape any feeling of privacy we now hold. GEOTAGGING? Are you kidding me? As if FourSquare wasn’t bad enough, this is just an open cyber invitation to real life stalkers, burglars, and that “guy you met at the club last night” who you added on facebook and can now easily track you. Even if you were thinking of escaping this mayhem by deleting your account, you won’t be able to hide from the massive amounts of tags, mentions and the like from friends who use the site.

Which, on a side note, brings me to another point. Remember that cute café you found by chance because you actually went outside that one time? Like you completely logged off of facebook to enjoy a seemingly unvirtual life and found something quaint and “undiscovered”? Well, that’ll be gone too. That salon that gave you a discount will now be geotagged and raped of any identity or character by a billion facebook users that didn’t know of its existence before.

This strategy is very upsetting, because not only will everything we like be tracked and labeled for a social data file, but nobody we know will be reaping the benefits. Now upon visiting your favourite café, somebody will take a photo of you, geotag it, and you’ll be subscribed to some stupid mailing list that you can’t get away from. I’m officially moving to the last place on earth where there is no wi-fi.

Alex

Pocket Life just launched a deep geo integration with facebooks API: simply install the “Pocket Life for facebook” app on http://bit.ly/cU2CBJ and use Pocket Life to share your real time location on your facebook profile. Also every status update from Pocket Life will be geo-tagged and posted on your facebook profile so that friends will see it in their news feed. Check the Pocket Life blog for details (http://blog.pocketlife.com/blog/index.php).

Guest

Okay so how about a feature something that will not make my marks PLUNGE? So that I don’t have to quit facebook?

Mitch

Like many, I’m getting bored of Facebook. The ads, privacy issues, annoying applications, and the fact that half the people on the network are idiots makes it unattractive. I barely use it anymore. It reminds me of what happened to MySpace.

ronald

What it boils down to is organization. FB tries to organize data in ones social graph. Google uses search. Context is all about organization. Google has none, except a guess from the keyword[s]. FB has some(context data), so does Apple. Since Eric Schmidt thinks its all about sharing. Which just happens in a social graph which creates its usefulness. I have my doubts Google will be successful in this environment.

My guess FB and Apple will lead, Google will follow (somehow).

Brent Hopkins

I see a lot of griping about Facebook and it’s TOS… Which is understandable. But Facebook has been succeediing because their product works and because people like it. If people didn’t like it, we would have something else to talk about right now.
I don’t see Google as very likely to provide a real alternative. Google has a track record of good-sounding ideas hobbled by poor execution. Remember the hoopla about Google Friend Connect? I made a decent effort to work with it on my blog… But I gave up because it doesn’t deliver on its promise. Also, Google’s commitment to privacy is questionable, they have the same temptations as Facebook.
Open source would be the best way to construct the social web. Good luck getting any significant number of people to help you with that effort. Most people are blinded by greed at the prospect of feeding at the Facebook trough. Just remember what happens after the piggies get fattened up. Facebook wil be eating your bacon!
The average user doesn’t care about TOS or anything else (civil rights, social justice haha). They want to chat up the hotties, talk about getting drunk and post drunken photos of their friends making asses of themselves. They want a service so dumbed-down that they can still use it after downing ten shots of Jägermeister.

Thedude

Not to burst your bubble to jealous people and i’m not a big fan of FB. Facebook has already taken over the web a long time ago…..lol

mattcoop

Google can get all this done eventually with Wave protocol. Open strategy will trumped closed.

chaosnet3

“Facebook is doing precisely that. It knows that the social graph is of no use unless there’s real value in the information it contains.”

real value .. misconstrued .. misinterpreted .. misused .. abused .. anything one can think of .. about the reality of .. real value ..

real value .. hard currency, dollars .. counted in piles .. for facebook .. or any other shrewd.. astute entrepreneur ..

real .. and value .. both concepts .. in tatters .. in the way they are used .. represent nothing of what .. real .. and value .. mean for the human individual

the fact remains that reality .. and value .. are unshakeable, robust concepts .. in the minds of people .. only swayed .. by the avalanche of detritus-information .. passed on as worthy for one’s attention .. by the kinds of media spawned out .. of their mists

and the way they are interpreted, used .. are nowhere near .. to the reality and value that they really represent .. what drives people to relate with one another .. what lurks underneath .. in hiding .. when the .. real and value .. they are talking about .. loosen their claws ..

that is what stands out .. and everything is measured up against it .. and their .. real and value .. fare so little ..

I feel the angst .. the sense of hopelessness .. of loosing the game .. coming out of this post .. but in reality .. the gains they aspire to .. plan, imagine .. a mere respite .. trying in vain .. to hold onto .. an outdated, soon to be, mode of thinking

Jay

So this explains google’s xauth announcement earlier, they are trying to out fb-connect fb-connect.

Roguepuppet

When a company like Glue brings me value as first intent, I do not mind that they also end up with a valuable data set. When a company just wants to track me to make money and I get little out of it, I have no use for it. It saddens me that people have agreed to waste even more of their day making companies rich, rather than making something

Ferodynamics

Microsoft tried this and failed. Personally, I don’t want it. I won’t use FB Connect and I won’t comment on blogs that use Disqus either. I like Gravatars.

By the way, there is no way to delete a Facebook account, you can only “deactivate” it, allowing Facebook to spam you forever. The “unsubscribe” link on the spams does just the opposite: auto-reactivates your Facebook account and turns on ~100 email notifications from Facebook.

I sincerely hope the FTC revokes Facebook’s Internet privileges.

Blocking the Facebook domain comes with risks too, a new domain owner could assume your Facebook identity.

matphoto

Goodbye StumbleUpon, you were fun while you lasted. unfortunately it looks like you have to become a giant fast like twitter did or else you won’t survive facebook’s integration of your idea.

Also thank god for wordpress, or else I’d probably have to facebook connect in order to post this damn comment.. Now that’s a company I always trust to put the user before its own profits. They should team up with firefox and create an open source social networking solution to bring facebook down to size a bit.

Jeff Dickey

Hours before reading this, I lobotomized and disabled (to the extent permissible) my Facebook account. I will no longer be using FB in any form; emails from the FB domain or with “Facebook” in the subject are automatically deleted by my email client.

People complain about Apple lock-in and use of information; they should take a look at Facebook’s terms of service now compared to even a year ago. Anything that touches Facebook, they declare as under their control; you are graciously granted a revocable license to use your own self-describing and/or self-generated data. They’re obviously depending on the “Kool Kids Klique” and the “everybody is on Facebook” meme to keep the ‘service’ — and its revenue stream — growing.

Count me out, thanks.

dudusmaximus

Like you said, it is AOL 2.0 all over again.

Google gleaned data about us by providing value or using their computing smarts. Benign if you will.

Facebook is ripping off everyone’s privacy layer by layer. The privacy controls are (deliberately?) shrouded in complexity.

Once the nuisance factor starts overriding the utility, (dare I say) the same future as AOL beckons ..

Erik Bigelow

This is why more has to be invested in decentralized social networking. I’m building an application called 6d (http://www.get6d.com) that will let people own their own identity and share only what they want across domains through what has essentially been coined as webhooks. We’ll have a beta ready in about a week and it’s already working on my site and a few others to let us talk and share what we choose. This also puts searching for people and topics back in the hands of google and bing like it should be. Check it out we’ve been building it for about a year and it is pretty much opposite of facebook in terms of user ownership and power.

Sanjay Maharaj

A one stop shop for staying engaged. If this is the case then they will definitely be a threat to some big names. Will this strategy if they are able to pull it off render some big web n names useless?

steve

Do hope you can opt out of “Facebook Connect 2.0” would annoy me if a blog I went to read and had facebook connect was auto notified to facebook.

Guess more reason to log out and probably leave facebook all together.

Maybe time to point 127.0.0.1 facebook.com in my hosts file

jesus tangco

I only realized now but I am spending more and more time online using the facebook page. My default homepage on my browser is google.com but after going on-line I check my facebook page.

I still do searches using google but I spend more time in a digital day on facebook.

If I remember several years ago, yahoo was losing out to google on the user’s time spent on each website.

Another thing about the 2 sites. I do not want to show my real identity on google/gmail but I am willing to do so on facebook.

I see a slow reversal for google.com

talll.com

the issue here is, everytime they will hit limits on privacy. when u try to be identity of ppl around the web, this invariably happens.

Reilly Brennan

I am quite happy keeping Facebook (or anyone) disassociated from the whole of my web activity. Having more of my data helps them, but I can’t see a real benefit for me (registrations aren’t as annoying as they paint them to be).

Steve G.

Based on this article, it makes we wonder: Is the name of the conference pronounced “eff-eight” or “fate”??

Fate is the scarier one…

FBsucks

Everybody is not registered on the facebook site. Only the sad and lonely desperate to be accepted by the giggling flock.

theholymoment

I would really have to disagree, my 50 year old mother and her old high schools entire graduated class has a facebook. My boss has a facebook. “Everyone and their mother’s,” literally.

VicktheChick

Actually, I know several people with HUNDREDS of so called “friends” and they are TOTAL losers in real life. The people that are REALLY interacting in the real world rarely check their Facebook or don’t have one at all. People are starting to realize it is a waste of life and breath and time. GET IN THE REAL WORLD…GET A LIFE…FACEBOOK SAPS YOUR LIFE

Michael

Yet you’re not wasting your life when commenting on random articles?

MyLocator (tm)

users dont want to mix business with pleasure, the integration of long tail small business into FB is a difficult if not impossible task. better to have an outside-integrated business branded destination site with no mobs, cornvilles, beads and drinks on me.

Dale

If this is FB’s strategy, perhaps it’s the beginning of an entropic collapse?

Google have evolved and are assuring themselves of being in the middle of the next 10+ years of User Engagement: Mobile.

FB are thinking about web sites?

Google will accept a reduced role in “old web,” while they move to own Mobile (Yes, I know, APPLE is in there somewhere, but Google could crush them in the mobile space in 2-3 years if they feel like it; Android=Free Everything, iPhone=PayPerApp).

End of the day, it will be the Company with the best vision and management who win. FB doesn’t really stand a chance. They’ll destroy some villages along the way but won’t win the war, they just aren’t smart enough or experienced enough.

Now, if FB come out tomorrow and announce their new free mobile phone and free SMS plan for everyone under 30…well, then, forget everything I said earlier…

Scottix

I would have to disagree. A mobile company is in a different space than FB. FB is backed by major corporations and I don’t see a problem with those corporations adding anything to make their social presence with FB. What they are proposing in my opinion will be scary. We are going to see phishing sites appear like crazy. I see the risk factor increase exponentially.

Brinned

Dale, you bring up a really good point. FB is working hard, but perhaps not in the right space. None the less, it seems those in the media are very excited/ worried about this development. http://bit.ly/d30Wsu Personally FB shouldn’t have moved to anything new until the get a dislike button!

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