Facebook today launched its latest missile in the war against Google for the trophy of world wide web domination. At F8, the company's developer conference, in San Francisco, CEO Mark Zuckerberg introduced the company's "Open Graph", which essentially extends Facebook's "like" feature to a multitude of external web sites, allowing users to feed their activity back into their Facebook news feeds. It also gives brands and site owners the ability to better track demographic data of the users visiting their sites. With this feature, Facebook has made a huge move in driving forward the semantic Web -- something that Google failed to do with Buzz.
"Facebook has won the Internet," said Damon Cortesi, CTO and co-founder of Untitled Startup. "Facebook has always been social, but in terms of dominating the Web over Google they have made strides today."
Thus far, companies such as Yelp, Pandora, CNN.com and countless others have installed the "like" feature. Levi's has even built a dedicated Levi's Friends Store that includes "like" options for all of its items. When a person "likes" a Levi's item, or even "recommends" a CNN story, it not only shows up on the user's Facebook profile, but on the brand or news web page itself. Moreover, if a Facebook user has already "liked" the item, his or her friends will see that when they visit the external site.
Apparently it takes all of 10 minutes for a Web site owner to implement the Open Graph feature into its digital presence.
"The ease by which you can now integrate Facebook onto your site is a ridiculously simple proposition to any web site owner," Cortesi said. "For one, it doesn't take long, and two, you now have the world's largest social network talking about you. Why wouldn't you do this?"
Brands who implement the "like" feature and play into the Open Graph can add a Facebook token to their Web sites that claims ownership of a page, and then can leverage Facebook's "Insights," which is essentially a mini Google analytics. They can then get demographic data, such as gender and age breakdowns, as well as frequency of shared pages.
"This type of data for marketers is huge," Cortesi said.
While a step forward, users cannot forget the privacy implications of this type of feature. Privacy still remains the unknown black hole of the semantic web, and the ability for brands to make Facebook integration even easier will create an explosion of Facebook inclusion on web sites. This could lead many users even further down the path of allowing themselves to be potentially profiled.
According to a CNN article, Zuckerberg reportedly said that the Open Graph does not show any information that wasn't previously already visible to friends. However, given Facebook's history of privacy issues, it's not what's being visibly shown to users that's necessarily the privacy the concern.
"My interest was piqued immediately from a privacy perspective," said Cortesi. "All of this information might've already been visible to friends, but now I can go to the Open Graph API and simply enter a user name in order to pull basic information about the user."
Cortesi, who spent 10 years as a security consultant before launching Untitled Startup, said that data such first name, last name, all of the person's likes both ON Facebook and OFF Facebook are visible through the Open Graph API.
"What a lot of people may or may not realize is that they are going to give up some of their personal information by using these features," he said. "This data can be scraped by almost anyone looking for more information."
Privacy debates aside, this is a clever move for Facebook, which has followed in Twitter's footsteps in terms of openness and using that openness for revenue goodness. As for Google, it's been fighting Facebook in the social category to no avail for some time. Will it wave the white flag or will it come back swinging against Facebook? If the latter, it had best pack one heck of a social punch.