Facebook shares the love – but on its own terms

24 Jul 2008

You have 90 million users of your social networking service. You’re not particularly bothered about profits because the investors love the fact that you’ve added 66 million new bums on seats in the past year and the advertising model is working so far (let’s not count the disaster that was Beacon . So, what next?

Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, reckons sharing is caring and he cares a lot. At yesterday’s Facebook developers conference F8 in San Francisco he talked about Facebook’s next steps, which will be based around spreading its presence further on the net, as well as getting inside your friends’ heads apparently.

“I really want to see us build a product that allows you to really feel a person and understand what’s really going on with them and feel present with them,” said Zuckerberg according to Time.com.

Up until now, Facebook had been a fairly closed environment, not counting the fact that it opened up its code to third-party developers, but more from the point of view that user activity on the social networking site could never be ported outside.

In fact, technology blogger, Robert Scoble, discussed one aspect of this closed environment, explaining that an event listing posted inside Facebook could not be reached by Google’s indexing, whereas on a site like the Yahoo!-owned Upcoming.org, it showed up in a search.

Why would Facebook want to lock in user data, effectively hiding it from search engines? When you have 90 million users coming back for more, you probably would not want to share your audience either.

Or you do share but on your terms. This is essentially what FacebookConnect will do. It will act a bit like OpenID, letting you use your Facebook username and password to log into other websites or blogs to interact, but it still doesn’t ‘open up’ information on the site any more than before.

Speaking to managing director of the Irish Internet Association about Facebook’s model versus the more open Google model, Fergal O’Byrne said: “This (silo approach) is a strategic decision by the likes of Facebook that may well backfire on them.

“Internet users are used to being hyper-connected and able to share data across many platforms. Facebook is hugely popular and with this comes challenges.

“I believe that users will want to be unconstrained and totally free to share and cross-pollinate data and information across myriad platforms.

O’Byrne said that “ring-fencing” users is not a great way to build loyalty, especially when the next Facebook is “only a venture capitalist’s chequebook from global domination.”

He said one of the reasons why Google is so successful as a search engine it because there are no constraints in using it – you can easily switch to MSN or Yahoo! if you wish: “Would the Google search engine be as popular if it locked you in when using it?”

Other sites like Flickr or YouTube will have longevity because they have interoperability with social networks, blogs and the like but as it stands data created on Facebook, such as your photo album, bio, likes and dislikes etc, cannot be taken out and used elsewhere. So how much is Zuckerberg actually sharing?

By Marie Boran

Pictured: Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook founder