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

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