Facebook’s Arrogance

I spent the morning reading up on the details of the new features Facebook announced at their annual F8 developers’ conference. The new features include: Social Plugins, which allow websites to add Facebook-style social interaction; the Open Graph Protocol, a way to let Facebook users add external Web pages to their profiles and to provide developers with access to Facebook analytics data; and the Graph API, a rewrite of Facebook’s core developer code to allow easier development on the Facebook platform. Information Week gives a great business and web impact breakdown here.

This announcement has huge ramifications for users’ privacy, marketers ability to achieve social interaction on the web, and of course the part Facebook wants you to focus on the most, the user experience.

Once again Facebook has thrown concerns for their users’ privacy out the window. In a move that makes the epic “Beacon” roll out look like child’s play, Facebook is opening your and your friends data up to the entire web. Anyone who can figure out how to insert an I Frame into their website and entice you to like what they’re selling or showcasing has a foot firmly in your social network. When I visited CNN and Pandora this morning the “Big Brother” feeling was palpable as I browsed through what my friends had been reading on CNN and saw what great (and sometimes embarrassing) tunes they were listening to. Since this feature is opt-out, not opt-in, my guess is that my friends were largely unaware that I was accessing this information. Now to lend some perspective, getting a peek into my friends’ radio stations is something I could just as easily do by sitting in the car with them, but there is something unsettling about being allowed to access this information when they aren’t looking.

These new features are exciting for marketers who want to build websites and online presences for clients that are more than just one-way communication, but two-way social interactions that enrich content and give it legs and presence in the once elusive social networks of their target audiences. Hubspot gives a good summary of these implications here. Facebook’s social plug-ins will allow developers to easily add this layer of sociability and ride on the coat tails of the 400 million user base Facebook has cultivated. There is merit to the argument that this social layer will give credibility to websites and blogs you visit because you will be able to see the footprints your friends have left behind. It will also instantly allow one-dimensional websites to become familiar to users and have interactivity capabilities that would have otherwise taken years to custom build, launch, and debug. The downside of course is that the interactions won’t be unique, they will be the same as your interactions on Facebook. The NHL is using the “like” plugin which will allow you to select the players you like and post the story to your Facebook page. A custom plug in and dedication to building their own online community could have allowed the NHL to let that button link you to the player’s discussion group within their own website so you could instantly connect with others outside of your own network who shared your same passion. Instead, as I discussed in an earlier post, users will be confined to their own past-oriented and often backwards-looking Facebook network when they share these stories, making them less socially useful.

Oh the Facebook user experience. Fodder for fan pages and groups alike who protest the roll out of new features, usually unsuccessfully, and frustrating for a maturing user base that is tired of the Mafia Wars notifications and the “please write on someone’s wall today” notifications. Facebook’s social plugins will allow it to bring in new and unique information into the network that will hopefully solve the users frustration of stale content and Facebook’s frustration with an increasingly apathetic audience that makes data gathering difficult when users aren’t sharing. I think this move will give Facebook another 5 years of relevancy as users are able to connect and interact with their friends based on their web presence rather than their cookie cutter Facebook profile page. The day will come, however, when users will flock to niche networks that are more relevant and useful to them.

Facebook is taking risks with this move, both with their users’ privacy and with the assumption that users like the Facebook model of interaction so much that they will embrace it across the web. I predict that they will be successful with these moves and largely unopposed for their privacy transgressions, but these moves won’t fix the limited nature of your social network with Facebook, the new features will just make it more interesting for the next few years.

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