Facebook, as expected, launched at its f8 conference in San Francisco today its master plan to make the rest of the web social. CEO Mark Zuckerberg and the social networking company’s director of product, Bret Taylor, laid out three major initiatives to that effect.
The f8 launches expand on the concept of authenticating on sites using Facebook Connect — which reached 100 million users in its first 15 months — and sending back updates to the Facebook news feed. Most interestingly, Facebook will move from the idea of a transitory stream of actions to give outside sites persistent access to its users.
First, social plugins are little widgets that bring Facebook to the rest of the web. They offer “instant personalization,” said Taylor, with the goal of increasing user engagement, using an iFrame and a cookie remembering the Facebook user. So when you visit a website, even if it’s new to you, you’ll see which friends have also logged in there, what their activity is and a set of recommendations based on their actions.
One action in particular will be closely tied back to Facebook: the like button. If you indicate you like an article, a band, a restaurant — anything, really — a site using Facebook’s open graph protocol can create a persistent relationship with you around that content. Sites give Facebook semantic information around the thing you liked — for instance, the title, type, genre and city for a band you like on Pandora. Then that band goes straight to the favorite music section of your profile. Same thing happens if you like a movie on IMDB, another launch partner.
The objects that you like are first-order citizens on Facebook, said Taylor. So if another user hovers over that movie you liked, they see information brought from IMDB. A click goes back to the source. If a user searches for restaurants on Facebook, the top things that show up in Facebook’s own search could be restaurants your friends liked on Yelp. And the sites can communicate back directly to that specific subset of users who have liked something. So when Stanford football star Toby Gerhart gets drafted tomorrow, Bret Taylor could automatically see that information in his feed.
One application developed with this in mind is the new Docs.com from Microsoft (s MSFT), a web-based document editor available later today that will enable users to see, edit and share with their Facebook friends. (This is an obvious team-up against Google (s GOOG) Docs.)
Lastly, Facebook’s Graph API aims to make developing on its platform much simpler for the long haul. Every object on Facebook has now been given an easy-to-formulate, unique ID. The API will allow sites to search user updates and get real-time updates every time a user adds a connection or posts on a wall. Developers, with permission, will be able to hold onto user data for more than 24 hours. And Facebook will be adopting the open authentication protocol OAuth.
Though these launches will clearly bring even more data under Facebook’s control, Zuckerberg said they signaled “for the first time a truly open graph.”
“The open graph puts people at the center of the web,” he said. “It means the web can become a series of personally and semantically meaningful connections.”
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