Facebook's Social Solution to Connect the Web Could Get Scary-- Fast (UPDATE)

Last Updated Apr 27, 2010 11:23 PM EDT

The unintended consequences of Facebook's new Open Graph effort to manage the Web according to personal preferences are already starting to dawn. What sounds like a good idea on the surface could quickly prove scary.

The social framework for connecting everyone to everything and everywhere they "like" with the push of a button is convenience personified until your realize a month into the new arrangement you're tangled in your own web of preferences.

Compromising what's left of personal privacy on the Web seems unavoidable. Setting ourselves up for a constant barrage of propositions from companies and individuals who think they are relevant to us will be problematic. The number of Internet players replicating Facebook's personal relevance approach to more effectively mine users will simply be astronomical.

Regardless of the privacy policy and safeguards Facebook institutes, we'll be asking ourselves six months from now just how we got from obsessing over Internet privacy breeches to enabling the world's dominant social network to splash it all across the World Wide Web.

As ReadWriteWeb points out, relative few users will take the time to closely study the terms of Facebook's new "instant personalization" or track the impact of virally morphing one's personal thumb print. Many Facebook members will jump on the Open Graph bandwagon and won't realize what hit them until it's too late. Just days after Facebook's stunning announcement, there are tutorials instructing on how to engage in safe "like."

If you don't think Facebook is throwing privacy under the bus, consider that just before Open Graph was announced, a hacker named Kirlos was caught selling 1.5 million stolen Facebook usernames and passwords in an underground forum.

On April 27, four US senators sent a letter to Facebook's founding CEO Mark Zuckerberg requesting that Facebook make the new instant personalization feature an opt-in, rather than opt-out choice for users, many of whom do not fully comprehend the extent to which their preferred web choices and other personal data will be widely known, stored and reused as a result. Facebook immediately responded to the letter, saying it would review the senators' concerns at a meeting later this week. It is just one example of the privacy backlash that is intensifying.

Like everything on the Internet, once the genie is out of the bottle, there's no getting it back in. I'm still not sure there is or ever will be a sure-fire recall or purge function on Facebook or anywhere on the web. We've been told that our every action and word is stored in perpetuity in cyber space. What happens when you stop liking something or someone -- just how do you take something back?

To be sure, there are all kinds of misnomers and myths already taking shape around the new business model that surely will be Facebook's ticket to a viral marketing payoff and becoming a public Internet giant down the road. What advertiser or organization won't want to play in the sweet spot of user enabled engagement? The inexact research about interactivity has at least established that social networking (Amazon calls it friend recommendations) has a penetrating influence on personal preferences and transactions.

Open Graph will be an interactive advertising, marketing research and e-commerce nirvana, building upon on the minimum $3.6 million annual earned media value of a single Facebook fan page, according to social media manager Virtue.

The broad impact of Open Graph is uncertain except that consumers will surely see this as a hyper connect system of choice and universal alternative to Google's dominant search framework for navigating the Web. With $40 billion in cash and a $200 market value, Google can handle and deserves to have formidable competition, and Zuckerberg (pictured) is a worthy opponent.

I'm more concerned about the user ramifications that can quickly spiral out of control once 500 million Facebook members and each of their 500 closest friends criss-cross the web with their impulsive attractions and long-held loves.

Whether or not Facebook, which already is being visited twice as often as Google in the workplace, has created a social successor to search as a way to manage the web's black hole of information, the phenomenon of Web reinvention will continue. Such "innovative disruption" is necessary for growth, according to Harvard Business School's Clayton Christensen, who has brilliantly waxed for a decade about transformative corporate thinking.

Now that Google, itself a major disruptor, is being disrupted, we can officially proclaim the next level of interactive enterprise that already sees Apple-inspired Apps becoming the new shortcut to digital places we want or need to be.

Facebook's move to make social the new Internet default is sprouting organically from consumer relevance, delivering more of what is meaningful to each of us, and then some. That's a good thing.

Just know there will be a price to pay.

  • Diane Mermigas

    Diane Mermigas has been a contributing editor and columnist at Mediapost, The Hollywood Reporter and Crain Communications as well as writing for such sites as Seeking Alpha, TrueSlant and BNET. In addition to speaking and television appearances, Diane consults with companies in digital transition, and is completing a book on the future of media.