C’mon, we haven’t beaten the “Facebook-wants-to-consume-the-Internet” and “we-should-all-boycott/quit-it” horses completely to death yet, have we? Nay, I say – like the day after Thanksgiving, we’ve merely had time to digest all that has occurred, and now should consider the consequences. What else may come about from these perhaps overly-bold moves? A couple thoughts:
#1: This has all happened before, and will happen again
Facebook’s unleashing of a phalanx of embeddable widgets isn’t the first, but is definitely the most high-profile episode in a wider movement away from destination portals (think Yahoo! homepage) towards becoming part of the infrastructure of the internet itself. I go into this in detail over at Convince and Convert, Jason Baer’s excellent social media strategy blog that’ll make you 10x smarter with every post. With little colonies of Facebook’s functionality and content popping up on sites all over the web, it’s not hard to see it as the new AOL – an increasingly privately-owned gateway to the internet for many. Indeed if this goes far enough, future generations may rarely venture beyond the walls of the Facebook-controlled web.
Don’t think that all the other social media giants have been simply sitting back and laughing at Facebook’s public flogging, though – copious notes have been taken and far-reaching plans are being hastily adjusted in war rooms as you read this. Others will dare to tread this path, albeit perhaps softer and at a slower pace than ol’ Zuckerberg did.
#2: It’s a Good News/Bad News Scenario
Now that the internet has a shot at becoming Serious Business, steps are being taken to bring it under control, and merge your on- and offline personas. This is ostensibly good and bad.
It’s good, because:
- We’re getting closer to the extinction of online anonymity, and with it the Greater Internet Dickwad. As more of your actions and contributions online are able to be tracked back to you personally, there’s a strong disincentive to acting like, well, an anonymous dick. If you wouldn’t say it in real life, it’s becoming less likely you’ll write it online.
- Doing away with having to remember non-sensitive login info, because you’ll always be logged in – again, I think Jay Baer says it best: “your preferences will follow you around like a puppy online”. Social networking platforms provide the breadcrumb trail for those preferences to follow, although Firefox may something to say about that.
- Umm…saving the carbon generated by unnecessary visits to Facebook proper…?
It’s bad, because:
- Erm, we’re getting closer to the extinction online anonymity. One wrong “Like” could be a major public embarassment.
- As with any 3rd party embedded service, it’s not under your control. When (not if) Facebook goes down, so do large parts of many people’s websites, to varying degrees.
- Facebook’s checkered past with data privacy provides ample fodder for concern. Enough toes have been stepped on enough times for there to be legitimate question marks hanging over Facebook’s intentions. Granted, like any other company, they’re out to make a buck, but is it through cultivating a thriving, engaged community, or at its expense? The default opt-in nature of even the latest revision to its privacy controls shows a disdain for the public’s ‘quaint’ notion of what should be private versus public.
- The line of demarcation between your website and our social network is becoming blurred, setting the stage for a titanic struggle over who owns the data – the ultimate prize in all this.
- Should the ‘Like’ button catch on, there’s a strong disincentive for anyone other than Facebook to bother collecting customers’ preference data – how can independently-operated sites hope to compete with a consolidated database that is fed by the combined activity of 400 million (and counting) users across the entire internet? ReadWriteWeb is spot on about content publishers/distributors fearing Facebook‘s most recent moves – their carefully curated databases of consumer preferences are acutely threatened by Facebook’s ability to amass this type of asset quickly.
Perfect example: Netflix. Their eerily-accurate (for the most part) recommendation engine was one of their strongest advantages over Blockbuster’s floundering efforts online – which in turn is swiftly undercut by a few well-placed ‘Like’ buttons on movie websites feeding precise preference data back to Facebook at a staggering rate.
Rest-assured, ripples will continue to be felt around this issue, but for now, that’s all I’ve got. How about you?
UPDATE: Jay Baer talks about some of the more recent Facebook developments along these lines over here.