Facebook’s ambition

Is this how the web looks to Facebook?

Ambition.

It’s the one word that kept coming up in conversations I had around the halls today at Facebook’s F8 event. Whenever I heard that word it was clear we were talking about Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook. Compared to last week’s weak moves by Twitter, where its CEO barely even announced anything, yesterday’s moves by Facebook were huge.

OK, I heard another few words:

“Visionary.”

“Scary.”

“Huge.”

“Unbelieveable.”

“Blown away.”

“Zuck has balls.” or “Facebook has balls.”

“Big moves.”

Heck, listen to David Kirkpatrick, who worked for Fortune for more than 20 years and just finished a book, Facebook Effect, about Facebook. I catch up with him here before the press conference, which happened just after Zuckerberg and team made tons of announcements:

Listen to the words he uses: “This is not just another company, it is a transformational phenomenon.”

“It is really great, but it is really scary in some ways too.”

By the way, after I talk with David I talk with quite a few other movers and shakers in the tech press in that video so you can get a sense of how we all reacted to the news. Then, at about 20 minutes into that video you get to see the full press conference (I have the only video of it on the Web that I’ve seen so far).

Before I explain more about what I mean when I say Facebook wants to own your digital fingerprints, there are a few other reactions I want to get in here. The first is with a couple of guys from the National Hockey League. Listen to how excited they are about the new features they turned on yesterday on NHL.com. You can “like” every player there. Some players already have hundreds of likes in just the first few hours.

Then watch how Pandora’s CTO, Tom Conrad, describes Facebook’s moves and how Pandora is now much more social because of these changes. “Mark is right when he says Web experiences want to be social.”

Finally, head over to Facebook’s official site and watch some of the videos if you haven’t seen them yet.

WHY IS THIS SO AMBITIOUS?

These moves are ambitious for a few reasons:

1. It gets Facebook plastered all over the web. Already Facebook likes are on many many sites and I’d expect to see Facebook’s new social features to show up on at least 30% of the web’s most popular sites within a month.
2. It lets us apply our social graph “fingerprint” to sites we visit. You do this by adding social plugins to your site, which is pretty easy to do.
3. It lets us apply our behavior “fingerprint” to sites we visit. Again, by adding social plugins onto your sites.
4. Facebook gets to study everything we touch now and will bring a much more complete stream back to the mother ship. This lets them build new analytics features for publishers, too, as All Facebook’s Nick O’Neill writes, but now Facebook will have the best data on the web for advertisers to study.
5. Facebook gets us to keep our profile data up to date. Marketer Ed Dale nailed why this is such a big deal.
6. Facebook gets to overlay a commerce system, called Credits, on top of all this. Justin Smith of Inside Facebook writes about that.
7. Facebook has opened up to enable all this stuff to flow back and forth and has removed the 24-hour limitation on storing data gained from its API. This is probably the biggest deal for developers, Inside Facebook writes about that, but they’ve also made their API more granular so that sites can ask for, and get, very specific data instead of getting everything stored on a user. We’ll be talking about this for a while, because it actually has good implications for privacy.
8. All this new data will enable Facebook to build new kinds of search experiences, as All Facebook hints at in a post where they say Facebook is trying to build a version fo the semantic web. Search Engine Land goes further in detail about what these changes will mean.
9. It lets Facebook minimize the need for a “public” fan page, like mine. Inside Facebook explains more in detail why this is true. Mostly because they’ll spit all those bits over onto my blog, if I add the code to my blog (which I’m pretty sure I will).
10. Finally a stream of focused bits for the people who are actually visiting your page can be pushed back out to you, as Inside Facebook demonstrates.
11. They made the API much simpler and shipped a powerful graph API so more developers can build apps for Facebook (this has been one of the advantages of Twitter, for instance, because Twitter’s API was simple to figure out). Heck, you can even hit it from a web browser to see what it returns. Here is what it returns for http://graph.facebook.com/scobleizer (if you want to try it yourself, just include your Facebook name instead of mine).

All this Web belongs to me

Is this all a deal with the devil, as RWW asks? Absolutely! Sebastien Provencher has another concern: that Facebook will gather data but not sure the goodies back (like analytics and monetization). GigaOm’s Liz Gannes notes that Facebook now is a single point of failure for the Web. Leo Laporte says he won’t use the new Facebook features on his sites. Dave Winer goes even further and says that the answer to all this must be “no.”

These are legitimate concerns. Let’s explore why:

Let’s key in on #2: your social graph — the people connected to you in various ways — is a fingerprint. My social graph is different than yours. So, when I click “like” on a hockey player on NHL, I’ve applied my fingerprint to that hockey player. Now what if 1,000 other people do that? That site really has a lot of details about the average user that’s visiting: details they never would have had access to before. But that’s not what’s scary. What’s scary is the traffic boost that these sites will get. Why? Because those 1,000 people will drag all their friends over. Actually, no, that’s not scary either.

What we’re really scared about is another very powerful company is forming. One that we don’t yet fully trust. Heck, just a few years ago Facebook erased me from the web for 24 hours. I can’t forget that, even though now I’m good friends with most of the Facebook execs. Let’s say Facebook wanted to kick you off the system, it could, and that could have deep implications for your business, career, etc.

Now go further, we’re all going to be very addicted to Facebook’s new features very quickly. The website that doesn’t have Facebook “likes” on it will seem weird in a few months. In a few years? Almost every site, I predict, will have them, and the other components that you can check out above (and more that will come soon, both from Facebook as well as other developers).

My fears are that Facebook might turn evil and use its position against organizations, the way that Apple locks out organizations from shipping apps (do you have Google Voice app on your iPhone yet? I don’t). Imagine if Facebook wanted to turn off the New York Times, for instance. It could. And that’s a LOT of power to give to one organization, even one that’s earned my trust like Facebook has. This is why I keep hoping Google has a clue (so far it hasn’t).

Tomorrow during the Gillmor Gang I’ll try to talk about the identity fingerprints that Facebook now has under its control. It is a scary world, but one that has huge benefits to all of us.

Today I told someone like I felt like I was at the completion of a major piece of commerce infrastructure that would affect our lives for decades. I likened it to the cross-continental railroad. Remember that? Well it changed the world. It opened the west. Made new careers possible. Let fresh food from California get to Chicago before it spoiled and all that. But it created an organization that had a LOT of power that wasn’t always used well.

Today I told Zuckerberg that he now has the modern-day railroad in his grasp and challenged him to both win our trust and not abuse the major power he’s going to aggregate.

So far I’m hearing all the right things from him and the employees around him. They know that this is a major, ambitious, move and they are going to move carefully and deliberately from here. They better or else we’ll see regulators move into control this business like we’ve never seen in our industry. One CEO, who asked not to be named, told me in the hallways today that Facebook is now a utility that the industry is going to rely on and he noted that utilities usually are heavily regulated to make sure that they don’t abuse the power they have over people and businesses.

The moves Facebook made today ARE that significant. Don’t miss Facebook’s ambition.

Oh, and if you’d like to hear more later today we’ll do a special Gillmor Gang and we’ll have Bret Taylor of Facebook on to fill in more details at noon Pacific Time. Watch building43 live then.

About Robert Scoble

As Startup Liaison for Rackspace, the Open Cloud Computing Company, I travel the world with Rocky Barbanica looking for what's happening on the bleeding edge of technology and report that here.

150 thoughts on “Facebook’s ambition

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  7. It will all end in tears, nobody can “own” or “rule” the Internet or the Worldwide Web. I look at it as complete capitulation, desperation in fact, to try and make it “worth” the monetary value fools have placed upon. An IPO will be next, wait and see, What they have done is the most dangerous thing ever. With all this information about ordinary people now going to be in the hands of so many, sheer logic says there will be big-time abuses. Just sit back a while and watch it happen. What I also find is how so many so-called experts have been so gushing about it all. You've all been suckered, take of the bullsh*t glasses and get real, please.

  8. Thank you so much for the coverage. I couldn't talk corporate into footing the bill for me to attend F8. I'm out on the frontier of Wyoming. Lonely. I LOVE Facebook. It's the ultimate life-streaming tool. It's great news that via social plugins the technology that powers Facebook will be able to connect the dots for me… compile and aggregate my likes and make available to me the likes of my networks. Like I said, it's lonely out here on the frontier. THANKS ROBERT for enabling me to experience much of F8 without leaving Wyoming.

  9. Another problem with Facebook is that a family member posts 20 game things a day. Other things you want to keep and read flow off the screen because she's got to say something about Mafia Wars. Another “Facebook friend” is a social activist. She posts a fair amount of interesting things, but some repetitive or arcane stuff I'm not interested in too. 30 or so things a day. Meanwhile, that personal message, that joke or something you really ARE interested in, just gets buried in the waves.

  10. I'm sorry, this is social coercion, not social web. I want to aggregate my own friends, wherever they are. That's why I went to Facebook. On my account now is a bunch of friends, work friends, family, old friends from other days, and some new Facebook friends that I make, one at a time. Now I go to another site and sign in with the Facebook icon. OpenID-type things — how secure are they? I don't know — but I sign in with one click. Okay, that's convenient, though I wish more sites just used OpenID. Then I write, say, an angry retort on a political site like the Huffington Post. Automatically, this is going to be posted on my Facebook page, right? No, I don't want it to. There are family members there. Aunt Agnes isn't going to like my rants. She's not interested. Or say another site, which involves a discussion of art and sexuality. Or anything and sexuality. Well, if some 15-year-old family member is my Facebook friends, not appropriate for them.

    In other words, I'm very skeptical of the value of this in any way except for people like Zuckerberg to make money. THAT'S the value of the “social media.” Strip-mining our personal lives so that Google and Facebook can send us ads at any time and place of the day. I'm not buying in.

  11. There are reasons to want a list of your friends and actions to stay private which have nothing to do with being ashamed of something you've done. In certain circumstances you may have people or institutions who want to hurt you, who'd love to find exactly who you care about or track what you do in order to use it as a tool for abuse. A basic sort of privacy has a crucial place in the world and “don't live on the web” is hardly an option these days. Pretending this isn't the case for the sake of “ballsy progress” seems irresponsible, insular and myopic.

  12. Facebook won't die. Look at myspace. It should have died but someone wanted it. And it is still around. Facebook can lose as much money as it wants, but as long as it gains page view and user count, it has “value” just not in the traditional sense.

  13. The problem with that is, that there is now effectively no way to do a large number of things we take for granted in our daily lives that does NOT involve putting personal information into a computer. Will Amazon and Hulu bare all to Facebook? What about Pfizer and Novartis? Your insurance company? And so on…

    Some of the most oppressive events and régimes in human history were enabled and sustained by excessive control over private lives and information; indeed, any successful resistance against oppression depends upon control of its own information. Many of us have little choice but to use computers for “ordinary” things now; after 35 years of banging on keyboards every day, RSI gives me unbearable hand cramps after a very few minutes with a pen in hand…and there are millions more like me, and hundreds of millions of the “Facebook generation” who soon will be.

    Fundamentally, personal liberty is meaningless without personal privacy; witness, for example, the Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Amendments to the US Constitution. What I see happening over the last few years — with the “new” Facebook as the logical outcome of the trend — is that a generation who is largely ignorant of and apathetic to personal freedoms and the responsibilities they entail, have been sucked into the corporate maw. “Useful fools,” indeed.

    And, just as a reminder…. it really doesn't matter if you click that 'Like' button on the dodgy Website. If you're logged into Facebook — and the underlying assumption all over seems to be that you will be, all the time — the site will know exactly who you are, and Facebook will know (and happily sell to all and sundry) who you are and where you were.

    Go read 1984 again, and tell me why this is such a great Boon to Mankind™. Living in a totalitarian society already, I can tell you one thing… it sucks. With an absolutely perfect vacuum.

  14. If you people constantly need applications to keep you in communication about what your supposed friends are doing, your no different than men using viagra to get erections. if you need this, the problem is your not really friends in the first place, regarding the viagra, your not actually excited about who your with. the vapid majority latch onto the crap and marvel at the prarie like vastness of a pov in a high exec (wallstreet like) vantage point. but we live on the ground, this stuff will aid whats already there, it's not going to add much, it's merely surveillance so ad execs like hollywood execs with scripts, can hope, that's it, ….universal passed on stars wars, twentieth century fox passes on et, faecesbook is no different than microsoft making sure their os worked on all computers back in the day, eventually there will be mac(book) linuxbook and boutique identity sites that have more ethics, rather than being run by a precocious life experience noob whos eyes are bigger than the need, facebook will become a shell of what it was two days ago as of now, the myspacification begins, the web is not an apple device and it never will be. the moment there is a reliable option to the default, guaranteed the innovative will take to it and leave as it gets commodified by the clueless. and on and on it goes…

  15. After reading and thinking about this for a couple of days, my suspicion is that both Google and Facebook will end up as government regulated utilities/monopolies.

    Think Ma Bell.

    First time a congress critter gets tooled by either of these companies is the beginning of that process.

  16. If you think about it Facebook just enabled twitter lists for Facebook essentially. Everyone's website/content will be sorted by how many fans are generated around the content/topic all based on curation based on a recommendation. Not to earth shattering if you believe in it. All they did was moved this ability to to build lists to every single webpage if they so choose.

    The BIGGER news would be anything to do with “search” . As with twitter its all going to come down to battling google in the search sphere and to throw advertising against it. Facebook has a very good chance of winning in that it has layered out a “social graph” underneath itself all while bringing humans not machines into the fold.

    Good post Scoble!

  17. Linda — As it turns out, this was Google's “account lock-down mode” in response to a perceived security threat; After Robert verified his true identity the account was re-instated. Not a glitch, a security measure! Personally, I'm quite reassured :-)

  18. I agree – think of all the blogs that have grown on these social networks
    [lets not focus on Facebook alone] what if Google or Twitter did something
    of the sort with your accounts?

    I for one would not trust putting all my eggs in one basket. It's cool to
    have a 'Social Web' but its better to distribute that control

    Sardar Mohkim Khan
    http://startupmeme.com
    http://twitter.com/smohkim
    http://pk.linkedin.com/in/sardarmohkimkhan
    http://www.google.com/profiles/smohkim

  19. Trust Facebook… After some of the stunts they have pulled I'm not sure if I would ever trust them.

  20. Well… I'm not sure it's as big a deal as you all are making it. So what if I know that my traffic has brown hair and blue eyes and likes turtles? What would I possibly do with that kind of useless information? That being said, Facebook and Google are getting too powerful. They're bloated. Twitter got it right. Simple is excellence.

  21. If you think about it Facebook just enabled twitter lists for Facebook essentially. Everyone's website/content will be sorted by how many fans are generated around the content/topic all based on curation based on a recommendation. Not to earth shattering if you believe in it. All they did was moved this ability to to build lists to every single webpage if they so choose.

    The BIGGER news would be anything to do with “search” . As with twitter its all going to come down to battling google in the search sphere and to throw advertising against it. Facebook has a very good chance of winning in that it has layered out a “social graph” underneath itself all while bringing humans not machines into the fold.

    Good post Scoble!

  22. Linda — As it turns out, this was Google's “account lock-down mode” in response to a perceived security threat; After Robert verified his true identity the account was re-instated. Not a glitch, a security measure! Personally, I'm quite reassured :-)

  23. I agree – think of all the blogs that have grown on these social networks
    [lets not focus on Facebook alone] what if Google or Twitter did something
    of the sort with your accounts?

    I for one would not trust putting all my eggs in one basket. It's cool to
    have a 'Social Web' but its better to distribute that control

    Sardar Mohkim Khan
    http://startupmeme.com
    http://twitter.com/smohkim
    http://pk.linkedin.com/in/sardarmohkimkhan
    http://www.google.com/profiles/smohkim

  24. Trust Facebook… After some of the stunts they have pulled I'm not sure if I would ever trust them.

  25. Can we trust Zuckerberg and Facebook with our personal lives? I’ll hold some judgement, but ultimately they do not throw gestures of trust in our direction. In fact it appears the opposite.

    I’m a marketer, social media practioner and follower of emerging technologies. But there is so much about Facebook’s approach that makes me uneasy as an individual. Even more, the fact that 100′s of my friends and more of the general population have NO context to what’s going on in the back end of all this is really troubling.

    Facebook is taking an interesting and provocative stance to “push” people to openess. But unlike google culture, it’s much more based on the technology and business they want to build and less the user utility, user experience or genuine steps to help people understand and have context for the decisions they make. When I hear fanboy excitement for what’s happening without context to the personal implications it frustrates me, so kudos to you Robert for the words of warning along with the exuberance. I think we need to put in check.. are any of us thinking about the social implication for people in this scenario? Or are we following technology new media fetish?

    Given what I do for a living, I am a bit surprised by my own discomfort and lack of clarity in of all this. That’s even more troubling, given if I don’t get it, everyday users probably aren’t engaged enough to want to know more. They have no real reason to question as Facebook opts to make their public info a default setting and pokes + prods folks to make more info available in unclear ways.

    I dunno.. but I’m guessing Facebook aids it’s own undoing. And I find myself pulling away from the platform. Mostly because they are in no way a people-centered culture. They don’t innovate around what human beings want and need and they are losing my trust. They in the end are technologists that are pushing people to use their “gadget”.

    And in the end.. to Martin Chamberlains point, FB is bloated. Twitter is simple. Google is innovative. I predict we’ll look back at Facebook much in the ways we see AOL and MySpace now. It’s already a mature product. Something will replace it as Twitter and Google expand.

    More here (Danah Boyds FB and Google Privacy Discussion at SXSW):
    http://bit.ly/a4OQ1j

    ..and a fun, if not dystopian fictional account of the open-info future:
    http://bit.ly/aGDbvD

  26. Well… I'm not sure it's as big a deal as you all are making it. So what if I know that my traffic has brown hair and blue eyes and likes turtles? What would I possibly do with that kind of useless information? That being said, Facebook and Google are getting too powerful. They're bloated. Twitter got it right. Simple is excellence.

  27. Hi, Robert — railroad analogy is a little flawed.

    The Internet is the “railroad”, not FB, because “the railroad” is a system, and no single company owned the system. (I confess I don't know how rail owners made money if other trains ran on their tracks.)

    Early RR companies controlled their “turf” by varying track width — making it hard (or impossible) for neighboring trains to run on their tracks. Walled gardens, in effect [1].

    So if you want to compare Facebook with a railroad company, go ahead, but don't compare it with the system. :-) But recognize that the U.S. has not had a railroad tycoon/magnate with anything that remotely approaches Zuckerburg's aspirations.

    FB wants to insert a layer of control on top of a system (designed for interoperability) by funneling data worth billions, apparently, to advertisers and such. This is an extreme form of “single source of data” and I, for one, do not want all of my web footprints to show up in FB. I'll not be playing.

    I have advised students to think twice about using Facebook connect as their “login” to new sites because we don't know what FB might do with that data in the future — a valid concern based on how the company has acted in the past. Unless all of these “like” buttons make it explicitly clear that by clicking it the user is knowingly sending info back to Facebook, I'll be advising students to avoid clicking on ANY “like” button without thinking about where that data might eventually wind up.

    For example, where does the data from clicking “like” on this site wind up?

    [1] http://southern.railfan.net/ties/1966/66-8/gaug… :
    In 1871 no less than 23 different gauges existed in the United States, ranging in width from three to six feet. Within the South, the state of North Carolina prescribed by law a gauge of 4 feet 8 1/2 inches to encourage a traffic flow to its own ports, rather than those in Virginia or South Carolina (each of which were primarily served by rails spaced five feet apart). Goods going between Virginia and South Carolina had to go through at least two interchanges on the way.

    The big money in RR infrastructure — building the Transcontinental Railroad — came from a government contract (to Union Pacific and Central Pacific).

  28. “Today I told Zuckerberg that he now has the modern-day railroad in his grasp and challenged him to both win our trust and not abuse the major power he’s going to aggregate.”

    Mark Zuckerberg is 25! Maybe bright as far as numbers go, but completely callow about the world and his place in it.

    He does NOT have my trust, especially after some of the stunts he's pulled, and this makes it even less likely that he will ever gain my trust.

    I do hope the answer to these announcements is a rousing NO from at least 98 percent of the people on Facebook.

  29. I think the clear result here is that all marketers need to learn how to effectively use FB and how to at least attain some control of their FB fan pages and reviews etc. Given the relative small expense to advertise on FB when compared with major search engines, they have a clear path for growth.

  30. There have certainly been rumors about a FB search platform which would show you results based on your friends reviews. I think they are some ways away from that still, but they are already starting with the ads that are shown to each individual.

  31. It is scary to think about how quickly FB could delete your profile and the truly profound consequences that would have. It's not as big of a deal as many make it though, realistically if Google were to delist my company website it would have many of the same effects, if not worse.

  32. “So much data that is relevant!”

    Noise is not relevant, nor is it even close to data, it's gerbil-activity — data needs to be actuality, rather transactions/happenings, not vague possibilities, that's mere conjecture. polluting that with real CRM is suicide. And per ads, most seemingly ignore, and the in-knows, Greasemonkey/Adblock off. If companies are going to Facebook-data-fish-with-dynamite style, that's just a spamming equivalent, mired in click fraud soup.

    What it DOES do, is provide mountains of raw stew for marketers to miracle-whip into all sorts of self-justifying scenarios, it's more a marketing-fluff-and-webmaster-maven job-save-tool, than anything real-world relevant or useful.

  33. To be honest Facebook floods out the whole update thing and makes it all too confusing for users. I can bet if you are not a regular reader or one who keeps an eye on what's latest with Facebook you will be lost every other day as to what has happened or changed on it over time.

    It has to lessen its frequency of changes a bit to make it more understandable for the vast majority.

  34. This is bad news. The internet should not be so “social” in this way. It simply equates to the misappropriation of personal data and the selling of same for profit. Does the internet really need that much control placed into the hands of some dweeby (and let’s face it, highly dishonest) kid of very questionable moral status who’s hell bent on destroying other people’s business models? I think some of you can’t see the woods for the trees and have not thought through the implications.

  35. thanks reechard. That is a quite a sight.

    Yesterday, while I was trying to watch the livestream from #f8, I was also trying to research and manage the panic of client whose Facebook Page – ADadsPointofView had simply DISAPPEARED. No message nothing. We knew that Facebook Like Pages, as I am calling them for the moment, were glitching – with “See All People Like This” becoming unavailable, then available again. But it was still a very, very stressful half day for Bruce.

    Thank you Robert for being all over this situation. I've added one more link to the many coming into this article from http://asklindasherman.com/opt-out-instant-pers

  36. So I'm reading this post, and I definitely hear the whole Facebook/evil argument. But I think there are a few pieces missing. First, evil to me means dumb. Big companies don't get evil, they just so big, they're corporate structures can't handle the weight of the load that's been piled on. Eventually communication breaks down and the right hand doesn't even realize what the left is doing. The bigger a company gets, the dumber it gets, especially when the leadership is limited in its ability to manage a certain size company. That's a fact.

    That said, although I'm concerned about Facebook's ability to manage its size, as it relates to privacy they are basically middleware. I am way more concerned about much less sophisticated companies loosing control of my data (Rock You ring any bells) as I roam the web leaving my digital fingerprint everywhere I go.

    Facebook is basically building a foundation which facilitates outsourcing, then they benefit from all the metrics. I'm sure most of us long ago predicted the “marketers dream” scenario, and that day is coming fast. As a FB developer, this is some really exciting stuff. But as a user I know that our technology and innovation often surpasses our humanity. If there is a way to abuse these new found powers, someone will figure it out and exploit it. I think the Great Recession proved that.

  37. Facebook is here to stay and a truly ambitious force, as you said, Robert. Facebook is a master destination site that ties people together in the world wide faceweb.

    Living online is like being in custody BY CHOICE. Actions, words, videos, photos should run your personal litmus test similar to the Miranda law. You have the choice to remain silent, and know that anything you say will be used against you in a court of law. The bit about an attorney is truly outdated; because the law is years behind online activities.

    Google and Facebook are third parties and therefore on a privacy note, there really is none. It can all be handed over to the courts. In fact, most everything done online or that has personal information in a database can be used to create your personal profile.

    As far as businesses go, it is marketing heaven. So much data that is relevant! You can truly target very specific markets. It is a marketers dream to have profiles available with geographic, demographic, likes, and keywords at the push of a search button.

    Now, if Facebook would just add the feature to “de-select” advertising categories. It is such a waste to see ads that have NO MEANING to the viewer/reader. Personally, if I see one more “weight loss” ad on Facebook (I weigh 120), I just shake my head and think about the waste of screen real estate that could be better served.

    Sherrie Rose
    The Love Linguist

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