Home Articles Can Facebook really deliver on its goal to redefine the internet?

Can Facebook really deliver on its goal to redefine the internet?


Being a happy little Gen-Y Vegemite, I am not old enough to have witnessed first-hand the profound effect that the advent of Google had on the internet in the early noughties.

I simply wasn’t all that interested in the web and digital strategy back then. For me, search has always been part of the digital landscape, as familiar and ordinary as video games and cartoons are to the generations that came before.

By the time I had started taking an interest in the scene, Google, and the modern internet, just kinda ‘was’.

Tuning into the F8 Facebook conference (held yesterday in the US) and reading many of the media reports coming out of it, I’m wondering if we’re about to witness the next great revolution of the internet.

Many years ago, Google took centre stage just as the world began to buzz about web 2.0. And now, I think we’re about to see Facebook take the digital reins and deliver the next meaningful evolution of the web from the realm of geekdom to the mainstream.

Facebook’s new ‘Open Graph’ takes your social network everywhere

At F8, Facebook launched its new ‘Open Graph’ platform.

Open Graph is Facebook’s name for the vast network of individual social graph’s that it has been compiling for all of us. To quote Facebook’s Director of Product, Bret Taylor:

There are two important themes behind everything we’re delivering today. First, the Web is moving to a model based on the connections between people and all the things they care about. Second, this connections-based Web is well on its way to being built and providing value to both users and developers — the underlying graph of connections just needs to be mapped in a way that makes it easy to use and interoperable.

It is the embodiment of the social, semantic web.

Open Graph is a platform that can be added to any website via its API (Advanced Application Programming Interface… ask the nearest teenager if you have no idea what that means), and by doing this, Facebook is basically piping itself and all of its user and social data and metadata into your site.

In other words:

  1. If you have Open Graph integrated with your site, and
  2. A consumer visits your site, and
  3. Is logged into Facebook…

Then your site knows who they are and, in theory, much of what Facebook knows about them.

Yes. WOW.

I say “in theory” because the user does retain control over what Facebook can share. The rules can be found in each individual user’s Facebook privacy settings. Read this excellent post from Mashable to find out more.

The Facebook ‘Like’ button

Hopefully, you noticed it at the top of this post. If you like what you are reading, you might want to click the button to demonstrate your support. (Go on, go back to the top of the article and give it a go. Pretty please… with sugar on top. ;-))

Expect to start seeing this little button everywhere. It will be just as ubiquitous, if not more so, than the Twitter “retweet” button (TweetMeme). If you see ‘recommend’, it is the same thing (a setup option for the site owner).

This is what will drive the Open Graph database. Everything you and your friends ‘like’ gets plugged into Open Graph and your personal social graph begins to form.

If you are familiar with Facebook share buttons on sites already, this button is going to replace them. (Facebook is phasing out the old “Facebook Connect” interface.)

Adding the ‘like’ button to your site is easy. However note that this is not the same as integrating Open Graph into your site. That is a much more sophisticated task that requires strategy and a good web developer.

Early examples of Open Graph on websites

Like all good tech launches of such significance, Facebook has come prepared with a few examples “it made earlier”.

The full list of Facebook’s ‘showcase’ partners is:

Some of these, such as Pandora and Yelp are not accessible in Australia (sadly), but I encourage you to have a look and tinker with the integrated Open Graph functionality on the others.

For the most part it is subtle, and it will take time to see the results really shine through. (People need to get ‘liking’ a lot more to build up the Open Graph database.)

But by far the most impressive, in my opinion, is Levi’s.

Have a play around with the “Like-Minded Shopping Starts Here” feature, making sure you are logged into Facebook while you do so. (That’s right, all you Facebook nay-sayers. There’s no fun to be had for you!)

This is where it gets really interesting

Even though the peer recommendation isn’t fully running yet, because the database still isn’t big enough, you can see the framework for an amazing, new retail experience emerging:

  • Over time, I will have my ‘own store’ (or catalogue, really) of Levi’s products my friends and I have liked and no doubt similar/related items based on Levi’s recommendations (from its broader pool of visitors).
  • It will also offer me items of information based on my recorded activity at other sites (i.e. stuff I have ‘liked’ elsewhere). Maybe I happened to ‘like’ the Friendly Fires on a music site, and Levi’s is sponsoring their tour wardrobe, so it adds some of those items to my personal ‘store’.
  • Crowd-sourcing happens right on the site so you can see what fashion trends are emerging, essentially in real time.
  • There is a feed of my friends’ upcoming birthdays, so that I might be prompted to buy them something from Levi’s. Now that is just cool.

This is just one execution and, personally, I’m really looking forward to seeing some other very creative cases pop up over the coming months.

What about privacy on Facebook?

Naturally, a development of this type and magnitude raises significant and well founded concern for personal privacy.

Mashable has summarised the privacy issues and concerns, I think, adequately here.

The most important aspects to note are:

  1. Facebook does now appear to be acting more progressively and openly on privacy, recognising that users should have a say in how the network’s privacy policy is formed.
  2. Facebook has handed responsibility for privacy to the user. By default, your settings will be sharing a lot of information. Facebook is saying, ‘If you want to protect your privacy, you can, but it’s your responsibility to go change those settings’.

There are also some concerns about controlling what information gets seen by which parts of our social graphs. For example, you might not want work friends to see a distinctly NSFW ‘like’. (Ed’s note for Baby Boomers: “Not-Suitable-for-Work”). It’s unclear how Facebook intends to control this but it would make sense for them to come out with something similar to Twitter’s “Lists” feature.

Why this is so very, very important to your business

Last month, we learned that the website with the most traffic in North America was no longer Google. Facebook has proved that it can at least match Google for social influence.

Further, with Open Graph, Facebook is now demonstrating the true potential of the social web.

Some people will call this knowledge and influence dangerous and pervasive. And of course, we are yet to see how consumers as a group will react. Will they embrace it or reject it, choosing to retain full control of their privacy?

What comes next is still unknown but I for one hope that Open Graph has the profound impact on the web it promises.

For businesses engaged in online marketing, this development offers an immense opportunity to connect with consumers in extremely personal and engaging ways. It also has the potential to radically overhaul how we allocate our resources online.

The greatest shift that this ushers in for businesses (and consumers) is an evolution from search as the basis for finding knowledge to one where recommendations rule. Why should a consumer search for your products when they can now simply ask a friend or perhaps check out what other people ‘like’?

Will they search or trust a friend?

Are you excited about Facebook’s new Open Graph platform? Do you think it will revolutionise the internet or am I just another Gen Y social media nutcase? And let us know if you come across any great Open Graph integrations!

Robert Scoble’s front row recording of the Facebook F8 Press Conference