Yesterday, at Facebook’s f8 developers’ conference, the social network announced a new platform called Open Graph. The service will allow partner sites to put “Like” buttons on their pages, mimicking a feature that’s already popular within Facebook itself. If logged-in Facebook users click on these “Like” buttons, the action goes back to Facebook and posts on the user’s profile, with a link to the site where the content was located.
This strikes me as a second try at Facebook’s ill-fated advertising platform, Beacon. Although advertising isn’t integrated into Open Graph yet, the similarities are hard to ignore.
With Beacon, Facebook reported user actions on third-party sites on the user’s page on the social network. Facebook sold the platform as a way of letting users share even more about their Web activity with their friends. Where it went wrong was that users were often surprised when Beacon reported on their activity. Because they didn’t feel in control, and the system was linked explicitly with advertising, users felt tricked into participating in product endorsements, and they felt their privacy was invaded.
Open Graph is a good second take. It still allows users to share data on their activities on third-party sites with friends and with Facebook. However, users will choose when to do so, because they’ll have to choose when to push the “Like” button. And, by extending a feature that’s already popular, Facebook increases users’ comfort with the changes.
But this is still a way of giving Facebook much more information about user activity on the Web, which could be used to target advertising. It would also be easy for Facebook to add more advertising integration later, once users are comfortable with using Open Graph. For example, I could imagine a site offering incentives to entice users to push “Like.”
Facebook also announced deeper integration with some services, such as those offered by Pandora and Microsoft, at f8. Docs for Facebook, for example, lets users cooperatively edit documents online. They can also move them back and forth between the Web and Office 2010.
All in all, Facebook plans to become even more involved in its users’ online lives.