Facebook Makes Itself a Central Point of Failure for the Web

Facebook, with its open graph announcements at the f8 conference today, is digging itself deep into the infrastructure of the web. Outside developers and existing sites will now be able to hook into Facebook users’ data and activities directly and persistently, keeping logs well beyond the previous limit of 24 hours.

Organizing the world’s information by powering it is clearly a direct affront to Google. Where Google observes links and relationships between web sites from a distance, Facebook aims to be the glue that connects the web itself. The implications are thrilling, but also scary — what if Facebook goes down?

The benefits of using a Facebook authentication system were already strong. Bret Taylor, Facebook’s director of product, at today’s keynote explained just how strong when speaking of his own struggle to grow FriendFeed, the┬áreal-time social company Facebook eventually acquired. Users who signed up for FriendFeed with Facebook Connect were four times more likely to become active than any other form of sign-up, said Taylor.

But now, beyond fostering better participation by inviting users to connect their real identities and their real relationships, web services will be able to use Facebook to explode user engagement and relationships. They can use Facebook’s social plugins to expose personalized friend activity and recommendations. And Facebook will establish persistent, dynamic links to users’ participation on connected sites around the web through its “like” buttons.

Users now have the ability to express their interests not only by saying what they like — say, a local restaurant — but by saying what web site represents it — say, a Yelp review page, instead of the official restaurant site. Web services would be silly not to participate.

As a user, having your social self represent you around the web will at first be creepy but ultimately be useful. As one Facebook engineer put it to me today, “Imagine if you had one login for the whole web. That would be so sweet.”

In preparation for f8, a few Facebook employees hacked together examples of what outside developers could do given the new open graph tools. For instance, Facebook.me would allow users to use Facebook as a CMS. Say you’re one of those crazy MySpace devotees who wants blinking disco lights on your profile. Great. Make a web page, host it at whatever URL you want, uglify it to your heart’s content, and port in data that dynamically connects to Facebook. You can imagine brands and small businesses might want to use this in lieu of a traditional web page.

Another demo, KlugePress, gives the ability to use a nice template and port in Facebook event information. Only users who are invited to the event on Facebook would be able to load a KlugePress invite (this is tricky, and wasn’t really figured out yet for the demo). If users are logged in to Facebook and have permitted access, they can RSVP, comment and see details as they would on the bland Facebook event page. The data itself is sent right back to Facebook. (Pictured above is a KlugePress skin on an older event from my own profile.)

By inviting developers to integrate with it so tightly, Facebook is enabling new opportunities — but also asking for an awful lot of trust.

Please see the disclosure about Facebook in my bio.

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