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article imageOp-Ed: Could new Facebook features bury Digg, other social media players?

By Chris Hogg     Apr 22, 2010 in Internet
At yesterday's f8 developer conference, Facebook announced a number of new features. Among them, a new "Like" button is slated to appear on billions of pages across the Web. Digg, Stumbleupon and just about everyone else: Watch out.
During the Facebook keynote address from the f8 conference yesterday (watch the video here), CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Platform Lead Bret Taylor outlined Facebook's plan for Web domination.
If you're not a programmer, the names "social plugins", "Open Graph"," and "Open Graph API" probably don't do much to pump your adrenaline. In simple terms, the three major initiatives could change how we browse the Web, and what Facebook learns from our browsing habits.

The "Like" button:

The first part of the announcement, social plugins, are simple widgets you can place on a website to allow readers to "Like" content and see what their friends find interesting. The "Like" button is familiar to Facebook users: When you press the thumbs-up Like button beside or below every story, information is sent back to your Facebook profile page and news feed to tell all your friends you found something interesting on a particular website.
While this functionality has existed before on Facebook, it's been made much simpler to integrate and you don't need to be a programmer to figure out how to do it.
Now, using one line of code, a website can add a Like button to a page. Furthermore, the button will show pictures of your friends who have already liked the content.
For example: Below is what the new Like button looks like. If any of your friends have "Liked" this article, their images will appear below the button. If you don't see any faces, you can Like this article and when your friends see this page they will see your face below:
This is a big shift in terms of sharing. Facebook gives developers a single bit of code and a whole lot of functionality. You're far more likely to read or look at something you know your friends have already endorsed, so from a publisher's standpoint it has the potential to increase traffic and time spent on site.
For those concerned about privacy, Facebook says, "None of your data is shared with the site when you view social plugins. Social plugins pull information directly from Facebook and the site has no access to the data being displayed to you."
So when I visit this page, I don't see your friends or any of your personal info – I only see my own friends.
"In the past the web has been defined by hyperlinks linking to static content," said Bret Taylor, head of Facebook Platform products during the keynote address at f8. "We think social linking will have as big an impact on the web as hyperlinking did."
Among the other social features is a recommendation tool. For example, this "Recommendation" widget showcases site-related content your friends have found interesting. Using Digital Journal as an example:
Or a "Recent activity" widget shows what your friends have been up to on Digital Journal:
There is also a tool for site log-in/sign-up buttons, so new visitors to a site will see which of their friends are already members before joining. This is an incredible tool for publishers, as people are far more likely to sign-up for a website if they see their friends have already joined.

Open Graph

I won't spend too much time on this, because outside the developer world you may not care about the intricate details. But the outcome is potentially game-changing.
"We are building a Web where the default is social," said Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. To accomplish this, Facebook is letting website owners and developers tap into social connections between people and create new links with people, places, brands and websites. Open Graph
What that means for you as a Facebook user: When you're on other sites and you Like content, Facebook can track what you find interesting and then tell the website you're visiting how they can do a better job of customizing content to your interests. When you Like a song on Pandora, or Like a restaurant on Yelp, Facebook learns more about you. So when you return to a website, the website can pull info about you and show you more similar content to what you, or your friends like.
“The stream is ephemeral,” said Zuckerberg. “It is there for a few hours and then it mostly floats away. Services don’t understand the semantic connections between you and that restaurant.” Facebook's new features change that, by tailoring Web content to likes and dislikes. “Our goal is to use the open graph so people can have instantly social experiences wherever they go,” Zuckerberg said.
Facebook's new features make Facebook a very large player in understanding interests. As more and more websites adopt them, Facebook has the potential to wipe out many aggregators and social media leaders.
The effect of this should not be underestimated, either. Zucerkberg estimated more than 1 billion Like buttons would circulate the Web as soon as the feature was launched yesterday afternoon. That number is poised to grow, and grow fast.
The more it's circulated, the more it will be used. The more it's used, the faster and larger it will grow. The end result: Facebook learns about you and what you find interesting and can start to understand the Web and its various pages from a social standpoint. Rather than being just a pageview on a website, individual readers become individual.
"The thing is Google understands data very well, it doesn't understand people," tech writer Om Malik told the BBC in a recent interview. "I don't think that is a problem for Facebook who understand them almost too well. The Google Web is about looking for things and the Facebook Web is about serendipity."

Facebook VS. everyone else

The social Web is not new; sites like Digg.com, Stumbleupon and countless others have grown into massive hubs of people sharing information with others. But with Facebook's new Like feature, these sites may struggle to maintain their piece of the pie.
For example, look at Digg.com, a site where people submit links from around the Web for others to vote on. The votes, called "Diggs", add up and the more times someone Diggs an article or video, the faster it makes it to the homepage. The homepage is customizable based on user interests.
Digital Journal employs a similar feature, with its Like button below articles being used to sort the site's front page based on what people find interesting.
While Digg currently attracts millions of people each month, the new ubiquitous Facebook Like button could become a major thorn in the company's side. Why? Simply because so many people care more about what their friends find interesting than the likes of complete strangers, and more people use Facebook than Digg.
Facebook's official stats indicate the site currently has 400 million members, but current ComScore numbers show that number is actually nearing 500 million.
In the past, publishers have included "Digg" buttons on their site with the hopes a Digger will stumble on the site and share it with their friends. While the Digg community is large, it pales in comparison to Facebook's userbase.
Furthermore, Facebook says the average Facebook user has 130 friends. A publisher who implements a Like button instead of a Digg button is going to get more exposure; there are more Facebook users online so the chances of them finding content is higher, and those who share content are doing so to an average of 130 people. If any of those 130 people also Like the article or piece of content in question, it is then re-shared to an additional 130 people. As more people like it, the number grows exponentially. On Digg, most submitted content never makes it to the front page and a lot of content fails to attract more than a few Diggs.
If you were a publisher, which button would you implement?
Digg certainly has a vibrant community of people who scour the Web and find interesting and diverse content. "Diggers" are also known for their wit and unpredictable sense of humour in comments. It's part of what makes the site interesting. But with a Facebook Like button earning more potential as a sharing tool, Digg now needs to find a way to be as relevant as Facebook, which is slowly chipping away at every unique feature the site once boasted.
The same goes for sites such as StumbleUpon, Delicious or Reddit. Facebook's content sharing and discovery tools are customizable, have wide reach and change the way people consume content. Competing with the world's largest social network is going to be no small task for these sites.
While there will always be value in finding content suggested by strangers, it becomes less relevant in the age of information overload. Today's Web is bursting at the seams with content and it's not a smart business move to rely on name recognition and hope people will come back to the site. Today, it's about content discovery and sharing, and with too much information we often fall back on what our friends, family or work colleagues find interesting when it comes to browsing the Web.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com
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