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Facebook Opens Up to the Web — Is That Good or Bad?

There has been plenty of talk about what Facebook would announce at the f8 conference this week, but the full magnitude of what the company has in mind didn’t really hit home until after the keynote by CEO Mark Zuckerberg and a related presentation by Chief Technology Officer Bret Taylor (Liz has a great overview of the issues here).

Both carried a single, unmistakable message: Facebook wants to own your activity on the Internet. Zuckerberg did his best to portray this as a great thing for users, but the corollary is inescapable: Facebook will be everywhere you are, watching what you do, keeping track of that data, and talking about what you’re doing to your friends and companies you “like.” A quick survey of the web shows that some seem to see this as a great idea (“Hey, I can show lots of cool stuff to my friends!”) and some are less enthusiastic (“Facebook is going to be following me and tracking my every movement!”).

The reaction from some observers on Twitter was positive. The LA Times said that it would “make sharing easier,” while Deborah Schultz of the Altimeter Group said, “A world that is more open and connected — always a good thing (despite some snarky comments); thanks FB for pushing open!!!” Her fellow Altimeter analyst Jeremiah Owyang was less enthused, however, describing it as Facebook’s “crusade of colonization.” The New York Times’s response was somewhat more tempered, calling it “Facebook to Go.”

Silicon Alley Insider called it a plan to “infiltrate the web,” and Silicon Beat said Facebook wants to “conquer the world.” Kevin Marks of BT, a former engineer with Technorati, said that “Facebook wants to replace links between sites with a database stored on their servers that they control access to,” and Eric Marcoullier (co-founder of Gnip and MyBlogLog) quipped: “Coldplay’s ‘when I ruled the world’ playing at F8. Interesting, if appropriate, choice.” Dan Gillmor of the Knight Center for Media Entrepreneurship summed it up by saying that “Facebook wants to *be* the Internet,” while Chris Dixon, co-founder of Hunch, said “we might look back at the 00’s as the golden age of the web, when we were ruled by Google, a benign dictator.”

As Liz has pointed out, the key to what Facebook wants to do is to control the hooks and tools that allow it to understand and participate in the social web, the “people-centered” web. By watching and indexing your “likes” and the likes of millions of others — Zuckerberg said that within 24 hours of his keynote, there would a billion “Like” buttons and plugins around the web — the company can create an incredibly powerful map of the relationships between people and their friends, and between people and the things they like, whether they are movies or bands or dishwashing detergent.

That’s a tremendous power to have, and the youthful CEO of Facebook makes it seem friendly and appealing. Why wouldn’t you want to share with your friends? But to use a popular phrase from Spider-Man, with great power comes great responsibility. Let’s hope Zuckerberg chooses to use his powers for good instead of evil.

Post and thumbnail photos courtesy of Flickr user Andrew Feinberg

8 Responses to “Facebook Opens Up to the Web — Is That Good or Bad?”

  1. To clarify – as one tweet in the moment does not my entire opinion make – I give them credit for adopting more open standards like oath etc – I am extremely dubious that they want to own all the data and behaviors on their servers. Additionally – their use of LIKE is so limiting and unimaginative.

  2. I may be paranoid, but I see a subtle pro-Google bias here. Google has (almost) owned the web for half a generation now, and there haven’t been too many questions. Its ethics have been put to the test with Buzz and the China mess.
    Facebook is a younger company with a seemingly more pragmatic team as compared to the early youthful idealism of Page and Brin. I do believe that a “billion Likes” are not going to give Facebook the keys to the engine room of the Web.
    I didn’t notice GigaOm create dubious questions when Google ran amok with the intrusive advertising, or when Apple became overly controlling with its App Store.
    I’d like a responsible answer. I am not here to start flame wars, far from it. I’ve deleted my FB account more than a couple of years ago. I use Google all the time, although I do not like Apple products.
    All I would really like is how FB has a great power when behemoths like Apple and Google wield it over the consumer, and Microsoft, Oracle and IBM do it to enterprises. Come on.

    • I think fb is thinking big, I just don’t think “likes,” widgets and activity streams will translate into more money. It certainly hasn’t helped digg take over the web, I doubt it will help fb take over the web.

  3. I think this is an interesting first attempt. I don’t see a larger penetration of facebook log-ins and share buttons then there already are (e.g. gigaom has buzz, twitter, fb and rss as the default share methods, commenting is powered by wordpress). I think services will use the “activity stream” idea more to get access to facebook walls, but that’s it.

    In addition, services such as disqus, wordpress, tumblr, posterous, yelp and others are now going to ensure they diversify their social sources.

    If anything this latest move will give a strong opening for yahoo to gain social parity with facebook, google buzz, and twitter, as independents (wordpress, yelp, digg etc.) realize that facebook wants to dominate their markets as well.