The Day that Facebook Took Over the Web

Note: this is cross posted to the Sequentia blog.

Ladies and Gentlemen, yesterday the web changed. At their F8 developer conference in San Francisco, Mark Zuckerberg and a few colleagues from Facebook got up on stage and announced a number of changes and features that promise to overhaul the very fabric of the world wide web. This is not hyperbole. This is fact.

What’s unclear is whether the changes are good or bad for the health of the web. It’s way to early to guess how this will play out. I can say with certainty though, that Facebook is about to get a whole lot bigger and more important. Just how big is Facebook already? They have nearly half a *billion* active users, and their rate of growth is accelerating.

This post deals with Open Graph, one of a handful of announcements made yesterday. In future posts, we’ll look at Community Pages and their implications. Open Graph is a new set of APIs and plugins that will allow every site on the web to enable Facebook features, such as clicking a “like” button, or seeing your friend’s activities on the site you’re visiting. Here’s a photo from Facebook’s presentation that shows the like button in action:

photo
(source: Facebook)

Now, the geek and marketer in me is screaming “cool!!!” You can be darn sure that I’ll be recommending implementing this asap for virtually all of our clients. This ability to “like” pretty much anything on the web promises to have huge implications for traffic, discoverability, recommendations, and much more.

SOCIAL SHOPPING, SOCIAL GAMING, SOCIAL NEWS, ETC

The ability to see what my friends have been reading, watching, and playing on any given site changes web surfing. Let’s say you visit cnn.com (one of the first partners to roll our Open Graph). Once there, you see that your closest friend has commented on a recent story. Odds are, you’ll click through to see what that story and comment are about. Another example: you click through to the NYTimes to do the Sunday crossword (’cause your smart like that). Once there, you see that your cousin completed the puzzle with 99% accuracy in 25 minutes. After your jealousy subsides, I bet you either abandon the puzzle or double down your efforts to beat your cousin. In both examples, Open Graph changed behaviour. Good or bad? Unknown.

What is known, is that every time someone clicks “like”, or visits a site with Open Graph enabled, Facebook collects a little more data. Facebook is a privately held company; one who’s interests are not necessarily aligned with it’s users. Open Graph is going to tie Facebook users in so tightly to the company that it will be nearly impossible to quit the service. This is a *brilliant* move for Facebook. They will simply own more data about more people than anyone else in the world, and do so in a way that ties users even more deeply into their system.

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR SITE OWNERS AND MARKETERS?

So what are the implications for Facebook Fan page owners? I see four main issues. First, expect your fan page to become more active. Beside the Open Graph announcement, Facebook changed the language for following a fan page from “fan” to “like”. This may seem small, but I think it will have big implications. The threshold for clicking “like” is much lower than clicking “fan”. I’ll announce to the world that I like Tide far sooner than I’d announce I’m a fan of the brand. It’s a purely semantic change, but I think it’s important.

The second implication for Fan page owners is the increased integration between their Facebook fan page and their own web properties. We know this is going to become tighter, but we don’t know exactly how quite yet. I can see a ton of value-add features built on top of the “like” data. For example, a list of the most “liked” content on site A listed on site A’s Facebook page (and integrated back into site A itself). Facebook fan pages will become ever more important, as Open Graph drives data and new users onto the system.

Third, content – already important – will become supreme. In a world where anything can be “liked” and shared, site owners and marketers need to provide share-worthy content. This is *critical*. The “like” button basically says “hey marketers, if your content doesn’t match your audience’s requirements, induce a smile, or make them feel smart, you’re screwed” (not to put too fine a point on it). Creating share-worthy content is what Sequentia Environics is ultimately all about. For nearly a decade, we’ve been helping our clients build value and community around killer content. Obviously, we’re excited that the rest of the world is coming around to our way of seeing things 😉

Finally, analytics and the interpretation of data as it relates to content and behaviour is another huge change. Open Graph, and the like button are going to open a new window into real-time audience behaviour. Marketers will be able to adjust content and offers on the fly, and see the implications on behaviour almost immediately. Sure, we’ve been able to do this already, but largely in single silos, ie one site at at time. We’ll now be able to do this for each content piece, regardless of it’s location!

For example, you write a blog post and post it on your site. Currently, you can measure traffic to that article and how often that article is shared (assuming you use a service that tracks this). Once that article is off your site though, it becomes very difficult to track both it’s movement and user’s interaction with it. No longer. “Like” changes this. We don’t know what the analytics tools will look like yet, but I think we’re a huge step closer to tracking behaviour and content as it moves across the web.

WHAT NOW?

Facebook hasn’t announced when Open Graph will be available to the general public. Many of the details of the system are still being ironed out, according to Bret Taylor, Facebook’s new Director of Product Management for Platform. My bet is this is three months away from public launch. Once it’s available, expect to see it spread fast.

The reality is that having access to one’s social graph (aka your friends and their friends) on a website changes the experience. Usually, it results in a richer experience (imagine reading the news; now compare that to reading and discussing the news with intelligent friends and colleagues). Open Graph offers very appealing upsides to site owners and to individual users. What remains to be seen is what Big Brother, sorry, Facebook will do with all the data.

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