Oh my, the kids at Facebook caused a ruckus this week! Depending on your point of view, the stuff they launched offers either blissful interconnectedness or the possibility of web domination.
Personally, I think Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his crew are Borg; resisting their friendship is futile.
Three announcements at a recent San Francisco Facebook conference have everyone in an uproar. In the words of GigaOM’s @lizgannes:
“Facebook, as expected, launched at its f8 conference in San Francisco today its master plan to make the rest of the web social.”
Gannes goes on to explain the three core offerings that Facebook brought to market:
- Social plugins
- Open graph protocol
- Graph API
Gannes’ writes in another article “Facebook aims to be the glue that connects the web itself. The implications are thrilling, but also scary — what if Facebook goes down?”
Depending on your point of view, Facebook is either helping the web get connected and social, or assimilating everything in its path.
I admit to the guilty pleasure of liking much of what they launched. Within hours I had used their social plugins to put a “Like Box” on my website (check it out at communicatto.com, bottom right corner). And that’s what they are counting on, businesses want easy access to Facebook’s 400 million users, so we’ll set aside our concerns about proprietary systems and suck it up to gain the eyeballs. Your parents and grandparents called this “advertising”.
That one little move put me offside with some commentators, such as Erick Schonfeld at TechCrunch, who wrote “The Open Graph is open only in name. It is a Facebook-controlled protocol and set of APIs. Facebook takes the data but doesn’t give back in the same degree. … All Of Your Likes … Belong To Us.”
The same TechCrunch article cited Chris Messina, a leader in the “open web” community (see bio here http://wiki.factoryjoe.com/Bio), bemoaning the closed nature of “Open Graph”.
From Messina’s blog: “Here’s the rub though: those Like buttons only work against Facebook. I can’t just be signed in to any social web provider… it’s got to be Facebook. And on top of that, whenever I “like” something, I’m sending a signal back to Facebook that gets recorded on both my profile, and in my activity stream … there’s one problem with this model: it’s evil.”
Enter the dudes in black suits and sunglasses.
Messina and others have proposed the OpenLike alternative, scant details of which can be found at OpenLike.org. The idea here is that an open source initiative is better suited to keeping your data to yourself while still broadcasting things on the web you like.
Seems reasonable – I love the open source browser Firefox, I generally publish on the open source blogging platform WordPress, I use open source tools to edit graphics, and have dabbled in the Microsoft Office alternative OpenOffice.org. Amazing and free software, what’s not to like?
Here’s the problem. Facebook gives me a nice little wizard which cooks up my “Like box” according to my preferences and then shows me the code I need to cut and paste into my website. OpenLike, on the other hand, shows some generic code, then sends me to a Google code repository to fetch it up. When I get there, it says stuff like this:
“GUI and IDE access
This project’s Subversion repository may be accessed using many different client programs and plug-ins. See your client’s documentation for more information.”
Bite me – I want the wizard. In fairness, open source always takes a while to reach critical mass and become user-friendly. But this kind of gobbledygook is really taking a knife to a gunfight. And the gang with the guns is 400 million strong.
In the words of Pete Cashmore, founder and CEO of Mashable in his CNN column:
“It’s a simple yet powerful feature — one that delivers a significant blow to rival Twitter. Once the network effects take hold, it’s frankly hard to imagine how any company could unseat Facebook’s social networking dominance in the months to come. Without a counterattack, even Google may one day be dethroned.”
As Cashmore points out, Google has stumbled repeatedly in building flopped social networks like Wave and Buzz, but they have enough money to buy almost anything they might dream of. And with Facebook poised to encroach upon Google’s lucrative ad business, and Twitter entering the ad business, chances are they have big dreams.
As usual, send me your feedback on Twitter at @dblacombe or via e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Doug Lacombe is president of communicatto.com, a social media marketing agency.