“Open” Debate: Let’s Talk About Facebook
Some people love how quickly social media evolve. They make it a hobby — and sometimes a profession — to keep up with the latest trends and opportunities. Others feel it all too overwhelming to learn a new system just in time to watch it evolve, or worse, fade away into obscurity. As the largest social network in the world, with more users than people who live in the U.S., Facebook doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon; and if there’s one thing Facebook does well, it’s change. At Facebook’s recent F8 conference, founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced some pretty significant developments that may very well lead a dramatic change in the way people use the internet. As with any major social media development, Facebook’s most recent has lead to flurry of concerns, questions and conflicts; and also a world of opportunity.
In a Nutshell
Facebook’s changes can be summed up like this: information you choose to make public on your Facebook profile can be used to “personalize” your web experience. This is done through social plug-ins on non-Facebook sites publishing content you “like” to your Facebook feed, and the “Open Graph,” which is designed to integrate external websites with Facebook by identifying “objects” (companies, people, music, movies, etc.) on their pages in a way that Facebook will recognize them. The idea is that when you visit a website that is optimized for Facebook, you will be provided with content that matches your interests, including relevant content about your friends. In a way, Facebook seeks to dominate the personalized social web experience by becoming not necessarily the source, but instead the traffic director, of all things social. This brings up some important issues. Will Facebook’s Open Graph leave a trail of casualties, including SEO, Google search, personal information privacy and proactive discovery? Or will it lead to the ideal internet experience, the semantic web, and social discovery like we’ve never seen before? Let’s open the debate!
Private Information vs. Open Information
In order to experience Facebook’s personalized web, you’ll need to provide it with personal information, which will be shared (if you choose) with websites you visit that are optimized for Facebook. In fact, the more info you give, the more personal your web experience becomes. Although many people already share large amounts of personal information with Facebook, not everyone is comfortable making this information easily accessible to other websites. Since many people will want to have their cake and eat it too, the business of social media security — with a new focus on Facebook and the Open Graph — will continue to grow. Users will want to decide what information is shared with whom and will seek the services of those who can help. Businesses looking to provide customers with an Open Graph-personalized web experience on their website should remember to communicate the importance of the security of their customers’ valuable personal info.
Facebook vs. Google
With the Open Graph and Social Plug-ins, Facebook is fighting for online consumer attention in the battle between proactive search and web personalization. With these developments, Facebook is really taking on Google more so than Twitter. In her recent article, “5 Reasons Why Google and Search Won’t Dominate the Next Decade,” Mashable Editor Yuli Ziv explains that a personalized web experience will greatly diminish the need for search engines, and the need for proactive search in general. After all, why would you need to search for new music or a new restaurant when Pandora and Yelp are making great recommendations based on your self-identified interests? While I think proactive search will always play an important role in consumer behavior, I also agree that the more Facebook and other social media networks integrate with web content, the more Google and other search giants will have to share online consumer attention. I wouldn’t write off proactive search just yet, though. First of all, people like to step outside of the boundaries every so often, even those which they themselves have created. Also, people may search for content of interest that they have decided not to include in the Open Graph. And finally, old habits often die hard, even when presented with more efficient alternatives.
SEO vs. SMO
Search Engine Optimization, or “SEO,” has become a popular service helping companies increase their chances of appearing at the top of search engine results and, therefore, driving more traffic to their content. As Facebook’s Social Plug-ins, the Open Graph and social personalized web content gain in usage (see Facebook vs. Google), Social Media Optimization, or “SMO,” will become more important as well. Just as meta tags search-optimize web content and hashtags optimize tweets, certain bits of code will Facebook-optimize website content, that is connect it to the Open Graph. I see “FBO,” or Facebook Optimization, coming to a store near you.
Personalized experience or sheltered experience?
If the Open Graph model becomes so effective that it does indeed greatly reduce desire for proactive search and browsing, what effect would it have on internet users? Keep in mind this is already happening to a certain extent with Twitter feeding info only from those you follow; RSS feeds delivering content from only those blogs/sites to which you subscribe; and Pandora playing only music styles that you have identified to have liked (just to name a few examples). On one hand, some will say that it’s wonderful to finally have the internet, as they want it, come to them — without all of the other noise and irrelevancies. Others will say that such an experience could lead to a sheltered view of things where new ideas are hindered and selected ideologies are simply reinforced over and over again. What about new discoveries? On Pandora, I’m pretty sure you can’t discover Owl City by listening to the Johnny Cash station. But then again, that’s where friends come in, right?