In Quiet Coup, Facebook Takes Over Internet

Last Updated Apr 22, 2010 3:07 PM EDT

Yesterday, while you might have been busy doing other things, Facebook took over the Internet. The reason this may not have come to your attention is that, like so many things technological, it's a little difficult to explain. Let me give it a try.

In announcing its Open Graph API, and various other bells and whistles at its F8 developer conference, Facebook made the social experience entirely portable -- and no, the Web will never be quite be the same. While it contains its share of geek-talk, do yourself a favor and watch the presentation; it will give you an idea of just how profound this is.

Here's an example of how this Facebook-powered, social Web will work. Say, for example (see visual, above), I go to the IMDB site, and look at the page for the hit movie "How to Train Your Dragon." As long as you're a Facebook user, and haven't turned off what is basically the default setting to make your entire Web experience social, you will automatically see who among your Facebook friends also liked the movie. You'll note that it has recorded me, and one of my other Facebook friends, in the "Like" column. If you were to come along and click on the "Like" button yourself, you would set off a chain of events that would spread this tidbit of data within Facebook. Your profile would automatically update to reflect that you like that movie, and the link to that page on IMDB's site will be embedded in Facebook along with it. No more cutting and pasting of URLs.

As Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg explained yesterday, the aim here is to connect all of these formerly separated consumptions of content and social worlds into one big, but differentiated, mass. My Web experience will now be different than yours, even when we're traveling to the same sites. As another example, if you go to Cnn.com and you're a Facebook user, you will see a little box (pictured at right) that shows what your friends might have done on that site, such as recommend a story, or share a link.

While this experience is absolutely frictionless for consumers, it's also close to frictionless for sites to start using. Even as Facebook trumpeted that its new Open Graph features were launching with many major content partners, it also made it clear the process of imprinting Facebook onto a site is a simple matter of cutting and pasting a few lines of html into your site's code. There are no negotations with Facebook required. As Facebook has done an excellent job of making sure that sites benefit from the Open Graph, too, by letting consumers' share links simply by clicking a "Like" button, any site that wouldn't add "Like" buttons to its social features would be foolish.

As I said in my Mediapost column yesterday, once you graft these two simple facts onto a customer base of almost 500 million Facebook users, you've got a pretty profound change on the Web. Yes, there will be a fair number of people who opt out of this degree of sharing, but hundreds of millions won't. That is destined to change the nature of how content is distributed throughout the Web.

A few days ago, I read somewhere that Facebook's Open Graph was like when Google began to syndicate its search bar to sites throughout the Web, onto browser interfaces, and so forth. (For a take on how this challenges Google Search, read my colleague Ben Popper's piece.) This is similar to the extent that it makes Facebook.com not so much of a destination anymore, but, as an exec at Appssavvy said, "a provider of social communication tools for the entire Web." On the other hand, this is much bigger than what Google did all those years ago. It's making one's likes and dislikes part of the online experience -- and that changes the nature of the Web.