Facebook isn't just a social network. By almost every reasonable standard, it is officially the winner of the social networking wars. While other popular social networks, including MySpace, may not disappear into the void completely, Facebook has left them in the dust.
But the war to become the world's dominant online social network is just one battle in a larger war that seeks to shape the future of the web. And Facebook is gearing up for battle.
At this year's Facebook F8 developer conference, CEO Mark Zuckerberg made a key announcement that has the blogosphere buzzing: the Open Graph. Zuckerberg explained on the Facebook Blog:
...we are making it so all websites can work together to build a more comprehensive map of connections and create better, more social experiences for everyone. We have redesigned Facebook Platform to offer a simple set of tools that sites around the web can use to personalize experiences and build out the graph of connections people are making.
This next version of Facebook Platform puts people at the center of the web. It lets you shape your experiences online and make them more social. For example, if you like a band on Pandora, that information can become part of the graph so that later if you visit a concert site, the site can tell you when the band you like is coming to your area. The power of the open graph is that it helps to create a smarter, personalized web that gets better with every action taken.
Essentially, the goal of the Open Graph is to realize the vision of a semantic web. And Facebook, not surprisingly, wants to be at the center of it.
The Open Graph consists of three products:
- Social plugins. These plugins given publishers the ability to make content more 'social', and hopefully more relevant to users. The most talked-about social plugin is a new "Like" button that allows publishers to give their users the ability to share particular pieces of content on Facebook in new and more social ways. Facebook expects a billion 'likes' in the first 24 hours.
- An Open Graph protocol. The Open Graph protocol allows publishers to tell Facebook what type of data their content represents. With this information, the site can facilitate new kinds of interactions. For instance, as the Financial Times explains, "Liking a movie on the IMDB film website would include that movie in the user's interests in their Facebook profile, with a link back to the original site."
- The Open Graph API. The Open Graph API will give developers far more access to Facebook's massive database. As detailed by CNET News.com, "There are a handful of new features, like a juiced-up search feature that will now make it possible for developers to search all public data on Facebook."
Needless to say, Facebook's announcements this year could be the company's biggest bet. Jennifer Leggio at ZDNet asks, "Has Facebook won the web war against Google?" and MG Siegler at TechCrunch goes so far as to state, "I think Facebook just seized control of the internet."
To be sure, Facebook's ambitions are grand, and there are plenty of reasons to bet on the company's success. Despite all of its mistakes, the company always seems to come out ahead. But in my opinion, it's premature to declare that these announcements are as "transformative" as Facebook would have us believe. These new features are bound to create new privacy concerns, and even if the Open Graph looks great on paper, getting it to work and making it meaningful to consumers in the real world are a different matter altogether.
On this note, I think the biggest question that can be asked is not "Is Facebook capable of delivering a semantic web?" but rather "Do consumers even want one?" Perhaps if the Open Graph is good enough, we just might get an answer.
Photo credit: Robert Scoble via Flickr.