Facebook’s ambition

Is this how the web looks to Facebook?


It’s the one word that kept coming up in conversations I had around the halls today at Facebook’s F8 event. Whenever I heard that word it was clear we were talking about Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook. Compared to last week’s weak moves by Twitter, where its CEO barely even announced anything, yesterday’s moves by Facebook were huge.

OK, I heard another few words:





“Blown away.”

“Zuck has balls.” or “Facebook has balls.”

“Big moves.”

Heck, listen to David Kirkpatrick, who worked for Fortune for more than 20 years and just finished a book, Facebook Effect, about Facebook. I catch up with him here before the press conference, which happened just after Zuckerberg and team made tons of announcements:

Listen to the words he uses: “This is not just another company, it is a transformational phenomenon.”

“It is really great, but it is really scary in some ways too.”

By the way, after I talk with David I talk with quite a few other movers and shakers in the tech press in that video so you can get a sense of how we all reacted to the news. Then, at about 20 minutes into that video you get to see the full press conference (I have the only video of it on the Web that I’ve seen so far).

Before I explain more about what I mean when I say Facebook wants to own your digital fingerprints, there are a few other reactions I want to get in here. The first is with a couple of guys from the National Hockey League. Listen to how excited they are about the new features they turned on yesterday on NHL.com. You can “like” every player there. Some players already have hundreds of likes in just the first few hours.

Then watch how Pandora’s CTO, Tom Conrad, describes Facebook’s moves and how Pandora is now much more social because of these changes. “Mark is right when he says Web experiences want to be social.”

Finally, head over to Facebook’s official site and watch some of the videos if you haven’t seen them yet.


These moves are ambitious for a few reasons:

1. It gets Facebook plastered all over the web. Already Facebook likes are on many many sites and I’d expect to see Facebook’s new social features to show up on at least 30% of the web’s most popular sites within a month.
2. It lets us apply our social graph “fingerprint” to sites we visit. You do this by adding social plugins to your site, which is pretty easy to do.
3. It lets us apply our behavior “fingerprint” to sites we visit. Again, by adding social plugins onto your sites.
4. Facebook gets to study everything we touch now and will bring a much more complete stream back to the mother ship. This lets them build new analytics features for publishers, too, as All Facebook’s Nick O’Neill writes, but now Facebook will have the best data on the web for advertisers to study.
5. Facebook gets us to keep our profile data up to date. Marketer Ed Dale nailed why this is such a big deal.
6. Facebook gets to overlay a commerce system, called Credits, on top of all this. Justin Smith of Inside Facebook writes about that.
7. Facebook has opened up to enable all this stuff to flow back and forth and has removed the 24-hour limitation on storing data gained from its API. This is probably the biggest deal for developers, Inside Facebook writes about that, but they’ve also made their API more granular so that sites can ask for, and get, very specific data instead of getting everything stored on a user. We’ll be talking about this for a while, because it actually has good implications for privacy.
8. All this new data will enable Facebook to build new kinds of search experiences, as All Facebook hints at in a post where they say Facebook is trying to build a version fo the semantic web. Search Engine Land goes further in detail about what these changes will mean.
9. It lets Facebook minimize the need for a “public” fan page, like mine. Inside Facebook explains more in detail why this is true. Mostly because they’ll spit all those bits over onto my blog, if I add the code to my blog (which I’m pretty sure I will).
10. Finally a stream of focused bits for the people who are actually visiting your page can be pushed back out to you, as Inside Facebook demonstrates.
11. They made the API much simpler and shipped a powerful graph API so more developers can build apps for Facebook (this has been one of the advantages of Twitter, for instance, because Twitter’s API was simple to figure out). Heck, you can even hit it from a web browser to see what it returns. Here is what it returns for http://graph.facebook.com/scobleizer (if you want to try it yourself, just include your Facebook name instead of mine).

All this Web belongs to me

Is this all a deal with the devil, as RWW asks? Absolutely! Sebastien Provencher has another concern: that Facebook will gather data but not sure the goodies back (like analytics and monetization). GigaOm’s Liz Gannes notes that Facebook now is a single point of failure for the Web. Leo Laporte says he won’t use the new Facebook features on his sites. Dave Winer goes even further and says that the answer to all this must be “no.”

These are legitimate concerns. Let’s explore why:

Let’s key in on #2: your social graph — the people connected to you in various ways — is a fingerprint. My social graph is different than yours. So, when I click “like” on a hockey player on NHL, I’ve applied my fingerprint to that hockey player. Now what if 1,000 other people do that? That site really has a lot of details about the average user that’s visiting: details they never would have had access to before. But that’s not what’s scary. What’s scary is the traffic boost that these sites will get. Why? Because those 1,000 people will drag all their friends over. Actually, no, that’s not scary either.

What we’re really scared about is another very powerful company is forming. One that we don’t yet fully trust. Heck, just a few years ago Facebook erased me from the web for 24 hours. I can’t forget that, even though now I’m good friends with most of the Facebook execs. Let’s say Facebook wanted to kick you off the system, it could, and that could have deep implications for your business, career, etc.

Now go further, we’re all going to be very addicted to Facebook’s new features very quickly. The website that doesn’t have Facebook “likes” on it will seem weird in a few months. In a few years? Almost every site, I predict, will have them, and the other components that you can check out above (and more that will come soon, both from Facebook as well as other developers).

My fears are that Facebook might turn evil and use its position against organizations, the way that Apple locks out organizations from shipping apps (do you have Google Voice app on your iPhone yet? I don’t). Imagine if Facebook wanted to turn off the New York Times, for instance. It could. And that’s a LOT of power to give to one organization, even one that’s earned my trust like Facebook has. This is why I keep hoping Google has a clue (so far it hasn’t).

Tomorrow during the Gillmor Gang I’ll try to talk about the identity fingerprints that Facebook now has under its control. It is a scary world, but one that has huge benefits to all of us.

Today I told someone like I felt like I was at the completion of a major piece of commerce infrastructure that would affect our lives for decades. I likened it to the cross-continental railroad. Remember that? Well it changed the world. It opened the west. Made new careers possible. Let fresh food from California get to Chicago before it spoiled and all that. But it created an organization that had a LOT of power that wasn’t always used well.

Today I told Zuckerberg that he now has the modern-day railroad in his grasp and challenged him to both win our trust and not abuse the major power he’s going to aggregate.

So far I’m hearing all the right things from him and the employees around him. They know that this is a major, ambitious, move and they are going to move carefully and deliberately from here. They better or else we’ll see regulators move into control this business like we’ve never seen in our industry. One CEO, who asked not to be named, told me in the hallways today that Facebook is now a utility that the industry is going to rely on and he noted that utilities usually are heavily regulated to make sure that they don’t abuse the power they have over people and businesses.

The moves Facebook made today ARE that significant. Don’t miss Facebook’s ambition.

Oh, and if you’d like to hear more later today we’ll do a special Gillmor Gang and we’ll have Bret Taylor of Facebook on to fill in more details at noon Pacific Time. Watch building43 live then.

*YOUTUBE VIDEOS HERE http://scobleizer.com/2010/04/22/facebook-ambition/

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