Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Facebook’s New Social Graph Platform

Another one of my "What Me Thinks" articles...

‘Facebook Connect’ is being replaced by the ‘Facebook Social Graph Platform’, which can basically be described as a vast network of people and the things they like. I believe this is the first step to a global shift in the WWW where content will be personalised based on your likes no matter what service or website you visit on the web.

Why do I feel this will change the way the WWW works
1) There are over 400 million active users worldwide, now if facebook was a country it will be the world’s 4th largest!

2) Here in Australia, almost 40% of our population is using Facebook

3) Over the past few years, concepts like Recommendation engines (e.g.: related links or in the case of a online shop, the “users who purchased this also purchased..” sections ) and automatic suggestions (e.g. autosuggest for search sites like Google) are becoming more and more popular as they keep people on a website for longer, let people find things that interest them more easily and get them to be more engaged with a websites content (which directly translates to Ad dollars and brand recognition)

4) Google’s PageRank algorithm works on the basis of how many incoming links a webpage has, these incoming links can be thought of as acknowledgements or as a ‘like’ one webpage has for another, but this still involves manually coding a hyperlink on a webpage. With the Facebook ‘like social plug-in’, this same acknowledgement can be done with a click on a single like button and it could start to cause an impact of the accuracy of the PageRank algorithm, as more developers use the like button instead of hyperlinks.

A Simple Scenario
Jane comes to the ninemsn homepage.

Because ninemsn does not know anything about Jane, she just sees what every user sees in terms of news articles etc.

But what if, when Jane comes to the ninemsn homepage we know specific stuff she likes, for example, The music, movies, actors, sports teams, celebrities, restaurants and activities she likes and interests she has.

And also, if her Facebook friends are on ninemsn and all their likes.

Then we can deliver custom links to her on the homepage which will keep her longer on our websites and get her to view more pages. We can now deliver more customised content to keep her coming back to our site.

This is the ultimate Recommendation Engine

Social and Personalized web
If you visit the Developers homepage on the facebook site, you will see the short description facebook uses describe this new developer platform:

“Build the social and personalized web. Facebook's powerful APIs enable you to create social experiences to drive growth and engagement on your web site.”

The words “social and personalized web” is the perfect description for what they are trying accomplish whilst carving out a huge dependency this new social and personalized web will have on Facebook to function. As all recommendations (which will be based on user’s likes) collected by facebook will be kept private within Facebook’s walls (no API can be used to extract it), Facebook is essentially moved away from being a fully open platform to a more tightly controlled platform. So Facebook is no longer a ‘destination website’ (like failing social networks Friendster and MySpace are), but its now a ‘tightly controlled platform’ that websites are built upon and therefore making it a core component of the WWW.

Conclusion, Has Facebook turned evil?
And if you think web users and developers won’t be happy with Facebook becoming a more closed and tightly controlled platform, all you have to do is look at how Apple has succeeded as a business and how dedicated Apple users are to its products. Even though no other company tightly controls everything about their business (technology, hardware, software, developer platform etc ) like Apple does they still have a huge following. What this proves (I feel) is that if a company can innovate and build products and services that change the lives of people, then those people will tolerate that company keeping a tight control over those products and services, as people understand that that’s what it takes to be innovative, competitive and to survive in the super fast paced technology and web worlds”

Some other interesting questions to ask now
Will this spell the end of Google’s dominance in search with PageRank, as personalised search powered by Facebook takes over?

Will this drive more users to the Facebook platform from rivals like Twitter, as Twitter users to start using Facebook more for status updates to get more personalised content in return?

Microsoft seems to be actively promoting the new facebook platform (e.g. www.docs.com), does this mean Microsoft has acknowledged that facebook is onto something big here, and if you can’t beat them then join them?

As more and more users flock to Facebook, will Facebook upgrade their email and chat features and take over market share in these areas as well, bringing in more users from competitors like Gmail, Live Mail, Live Messenger, Yahoo etc, and become the ultimate one stop shop?

Interesting times ahead indeed :)

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