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Movies, Music, and More Move Inside Facebook

Mark Zuckerberg announces ways to listen to music and watch movies inside Facebook, giving users less reason to spend time outside the site.
September 22, 2011

New features coming to Facebook this week will let users listen to music, watch movies, and read news without ever leaving the social network’s borders. They will also automatically broadcast what users are listening to, watching, and reading, if the user gives permission. The changes, part of an attempt to encourage people to share more of their lives through Facebook, were announced by company founder Mark Zuckerberg at the company’s F8 event in San Francisco today.

Zuckerberg announced during his keynote speech that a slew of media companies will collaborate on the project. If a person installs a Facebook app from any of those companies, his or her activity will be shown to friends via a new “ticker” box at the right-hand side of all Facebook pages. Users will be able to click on updates to get access to the same content, which will play, or become viewable, inside Facebook.

“You’re going to discover lots of new things that your friends are already doing all the time right now,” said Zuckerberg. “If I see that my friend is listening to something, I can hover over it and just play it; I’m listening with my friend, and my music is synched up with theirs.”

A similar change will make it possible to watch TV shows or movies that friends are watching through services including Hulu and Netflix. Updates will be sent to Facebook even if a person is using a mobile app or watching through the service’s own website. “We think this is going to make it so people can express an order of magnitude more than they can today,” said Zuckerberg.

Zuckerberg’s keynote was his first major public appearance since the launch of Google’s competing social network, Google+, and the release of the Oscar-winning movie The Social Network, which painted him in a less-than-flattering light.

Saturday Night Live comedian Andy Samberg opened the proceedings, taking the stage in character as his comic version of Zuckerberg. Samberg announced a number of spoof Facebook features, including the “slow poke,” before the real Mark Zuckerberg ran on stage for a few minutes of banter.

Zuckerberg’s presentation was less well rehearsed than a Steve Jobs keynote, but he came across as more accessible than Apple’s ex-CEO.

The new features may prove controversial. In some ways they resemble Beacon, a failed project from 2007 in which sites like Amazon automatically posted updates to Facebook when a person bought something. Beacon was cancelled after public protests over a lack of privacy controls.

Zuckerberg didn’t mention Beacon, but privacy issues came up when Netflix CEO Reed Hastings took the stage to demonstrate how people will be able to use his service through Facebook. Hastings explained that the feature couldn’t yet launch in the United States because of a decades-old law intended to prevent video rental stores from sharing titles rented by their customers, but he expressed hope that a bill currently before Congress would soon alter that law.

Facebook will compile a stream of snippets about a person’s listening, viewing, and reading habits into summaries that their friends can read. “Sometimes you discover things your friends are doing right now; other times you want to look at patterns that build up over a period of time,” said Zuckerberg. He added that the new features should make Facebook a driving force in making content, particularly music, pay in the digital era.

“The key to making music work [online] is not trying to block you from sharing songs you’ve bought; it’s helping you discover music so you’ll buy more,” Zuckerberg said before introducing Daniel Ek, CEO of the music service Spotify, who claimed that data from his company’s users showed that helping people sample songs makes them “twice as likely” to buy music.

Referring to Netflix, Spotify, and other partner companies planning to integrate with Facebook’s new features, Zuckerberg said, “These companies are not just coming up with ways to make movies and TV more social; they’re rethinking entire industries.” The Web’s most-read news source, Yahoo, is also working with Facebook, and News Corp.’s iPad-only magazine, The Daily, will become available through the site.

The new features are made possible by technology called the Open Graph, which connects Facebook’s data with outside sources of information. First announced in 2010, the Open Graph made it possible for users to recommend books, movies, and Web pages via the now-ubiquitous Like button and have those recommendations appear on their Facebook page. The Open Graph can also describe people’s connection to something—for example, showing that they “read,” “watched,” or “cooked” it. This kind of connection underpins Facebook’s new features.

When the Open Graph project was first announced, it was pitched as way to allow users’ social connections to follow them around the wider Web. The features announced today work in the other direction, bringing activity and content inside Facebook and potentially obviating the need to spend online time outside it.

Another new feature, dubbed Timeline, allows users to curate an interactive record of their life over the years. Timeline automatically summarizes a person’s past Facebook activity and attempts to identify the most significant moments. Users can also specify particular photos, events, or other content to highlight on the timeline.

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