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Facebook is renowned for rolling out new platform changes at a moment’s notice, but if early buzz is to be believed, this Thursday’s F8 developer conference will offer something a little bit special.
Major changes are expected that could fundamentally reshape the way content is found and shared on the world’s largest social network.
Will it be the dawn of a new social era, or is Facebook about to follow Myspace into the pit of abandoned platforms?
According to early press announcements, Mark Zuckerberg is about to unveil several major changes to Facebook, loosely tied together under a “read, watch & listen” banner.
Changes that have leaked out so far all focus on a desire to make personalised content more prominent in user’s news feeds.
New buttons showing what your network is reading, watching or listening to will be introduced, while a streaming “Ticker” will enable real-time music and video to be viewed within Facebook, utilising Spotify, Vevo video and other external media platforms.
Hopefully this means an end to those messy YouTube boxes being posted on your wall, as a separate column will display information about the most popular movie among your friends, or music they are listening to in realtime.
In addition, developers will have more freedom to personalise social plugins.
“Like” not good enough for you? How about changing it to “Need” “or “Love” (or “Get down on it” for that matter)?
This should help to optimise Facebook’s occasionally ill-fitting buttons and lightbox plugins to fit more conveniently on external pages.
Combined, these changes have the potential to massively increase Facebook’s already impressive pulling power for external sites, and bring the company’s vision of a completely ‘Social Web’ closer to fruition.
As usual with Facebook it isn’t all plain sailing.
One of the key points of the new sharing function will be automation, which in terms raises privacy concerns. Will users really accept a system that auto-shares ANY content they view on a page with a plugin?
Security, not to mention potential embarrassment as a user’s RedTube history unrolls in front of their entire family could be major turn-offs (no pun intended).
While the recent developments like "Lists" and "Subscribe" buttons have improved sharing security, Facebook's interface is still clunky and often confusing, as the company balances user confidence against its ability to target ads and drive revenue.
In addition, Facebook has long touted its power as a traffic referrer (with impressive stats to back this up, particularly for publishers), but experience disruption has often been cited as a major cause of abandonment for companies dabbling in F-Commerce.
This could further discourage users from leaving the walled garden for the wider web.
This functionality may also raise data privacy concerns for advertisers
As Facebook plugins gather referral data to target ads more effectively, there's a real danger the company could repeat its 'Beacon' debacle, which ultimately resulted in several lawsuits being filed.
Finally, there's a cause of concern for the company itself. While Facebook may just be too big to fail, it could still stand to learn a substantial lesson from poor, depleted MySpace.
While Myspace's demise had several contributing factors, not least mismanagement under NewsCorp's leadership, Facebook's rush to adapt and compete with Twitter, Google+ and more does echo some of the mistakes MySpace made.
Overly customisable pages and plugins disrupted the user experience and resulted in glittering "It's a small world" Zwinky pages that were often painful to look at.
While Facebook hasn't quite hit this level, new features are already starting to clutter homepages, and many users have complained vocally about the more prominent chat bar and social ads.
A clean, simple interface was one of Facebook's major attractions, and it would be foolish to cast this aside.
MySpace fell fastest when it stopped being a social network and began concentrating on being an internet entertainment centre, adding video, music and streaming content, all of which Facebook now seems set to echo.
Ultimately the platform's continued success relies on its users willingness to share content and click ads.
While innovation is always laudable, "giving the users what they want" isn't always the best strategy for social networks.