Turning the Social Network Inside Out: What the Changes at Facebook Mean For Apple and Google-and You

9/23/11Follow @wroush

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bug you over and over again about whether you really want to share something on Facebook; once you’ve authorized the connection, tidbits about your activities will be published automatically.

Each update that lands on a Facebook profile will include links that let that person’s friends investigate further, or pursue the same experience for themselves. If you share the fact that you listened to ’21 Guns’ using the new Spotify app on Facebook, for instance, then your friends will be able to listen too, right this instant. (Some updates will show up in your timeline or news feed, but to minimize the clutter, Facebook is moving many of them into a new area called the Ticker, which Zuckerberg called “a socially acceptable way to express lightweight activity.”)

The Like button spread across the Web so quickly that it’s easy to forget that Facebook introduced it only 17 months ago. But if you thought that was fast, watch out for the new “Add to Timeline” buttons that will start appearing in pages and apps everywhere. Open Graph already represents a huge, basically zero-cost opportunity for word-of-mouth sharing and discovery, and now that Facebook is giving media companies, game publishers, and other content creators and distributors more tools for controlling how their products are represented inside Facebook, it would be dumb not to join the party.

Far from being a walled garden, Facebook is evolving into a real-time communal blog, where everyone with an Internet connection can share virtually everything about what they’re doing, creating, and consuming. To Facebook’s credit, it’s not trying to centralize or tax all this activity the way, say, Apple is. It will profit, of course; the more information users share about their preferences and activities, the more Facebook can charge for precisely targeted advertisements. But the sharing that happens through the Open Graph will spawn plenty of new outgoing traffic, as Facebook users act on all the implicit recommendations they’re finding in their friends’ updates—Zuckerberg called this “real-time serendipity.”

And that’s how the changes in Open Graph will redraw the playing field where Facebook, Google, and Apple (and, of course, a collection of second-tier social players like Amazon, Microsoft, and Yahoo) are vying for our attention and our dollars. I don’t buy the argument some commentators have been making that Facebook is trying to build a Web-based app platform to rival Apple’s iOS or Google’s Android; Facebook is a social hub first and foremost and will never be a vertically integrated hardware-software-content player like Apple. But I do think Facebook is demonstrating that it has a better understanding of the way people actually find content than either Apple or Google.

As impressed as I am with Google’s come-from-behind effort in social networking, there aren’t many signs yet that the search company sees Google+ as a hub for media discovery or social commerce. And on the mobile front, the app store model created by Google and Apple is in huge need of Facebook’s social touch. I love my iPad and iPhone, and mobile apps are absolutely the hottest area for consumer technology innovation right now. But let’s be honest: The app store experience sucks. With half a million apps to choose from in the iTunes App Store and the Android Marketplace, consumers can’t find what they want and developers can’t get noticed.

Through their featured-app and hall-of-fame lists, Apple and Google make meager attempts at curation, and startups like Chomp are working on search-based alternatives. But my prediction is that … Next Page »

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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