Facebook is indeed a force to be reckoned with, as it proved at yesterday's f8 conference by launching a number of wide-reaching additions to the social networking site. The additions, including something they've named the Open Graph and various tools called Social Plugins for third-party websites, will integrate Facebook into the fabric of the web "so people can have instantly social experiences wherever they go," said Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.
What are the changes?
The Social Plugins and the Open Graph Facebook has created support each other. Now, sites will be able to offer plugins on their pages to allow users to "like" the content, and this content will be instantly published on their Facebook news feeds.
In a controversial privacy move (as most of their privacy decisions are), Zuckerberg announced that user information will be available to outside sources for more than 24 hours. This means anything that shows up on a person's news feed will now be accessible by third-party sites indefinitely, allowing websites to offer users a more personalized experience based upon their Facebook activities.
This privacy change and the addition of Social Plugins allow sites to offer information to their users, when logged in to Facebook, on what their friends have liked and shared on the site. Signing in to Facebook and then visiting a site like the online radio Pandora, for instance, would give a user the option to see what music their friends have liked and listened to previously, and to browse their own previous "likes."
Zuckerberg lauds the opportunity to individualize sites for each user offered by the Facebook plugins.
"You can have a user who's never been to your site before and present them with a totally personalized experience," he said.
This experience is what Facebook is calling the Open Graph, which is essentially a way to help developers to visualize connections between their products and Facebook users. Facebook, too, will gain from the Open Graph, as any time a person likes a band or movie, it will become a part of their information section on their profile. Users will now click a person's interests and be directed to a third-party site for that interest.
Tech Crunch's MG Siegler describes the Open Graph as Facebook using the web as its tributary, with all information provided from various websites ultimately flowing into the main repository--a user's Facebook page.
How can newspapers use the changes?
Already some newspaper and magazine websites have begun to implement some of the Facebook Social Plugins. Slate.com announced the implementation of a "like" button on all articles, as well as a list of "most shared" items--collected from Facebook--on every page. CNN, the Wall Street Journal, and the New York times all offer users who are logged into Facebook the chance to "like" a page. And the New York Times and the Washington Post offer users suggestions--the NYT from a toolbar at the top of the page titled TimesPeople, and the Washington Post from a box to the right of any article, which they are calling Network News. Visiting the Post while also signed in through Facebook offers users an option to see recent articles liked by their Facebook friends as well.
Goli Sheikholeslami, Vice President and General Manager of Digital Operations for the Washington Post, views the Network News plugin as a way to connect to readers.
"Network News lets us prominently feature what readers and their friends like, allowing us to create a site that is even more relevant to our audience," Sheikholeslami said.
Social Plugins were only launched yesterday, so many sites have not yet used them to their fullest potential. Two other promising plugins include the Activity Feed, which gives users live updates of their Facebook friends' activities on that site, and a Live Stream, which acts as a Facebook "wall" embedded on the site and allows for users to comment and post discussion pieces during a live event to the website.
These plugins will take advantage of the fact that Facebook is the fourth largest referrer to news sites across the web by using the power of friends' suggestions and relationships to drive traffic. This may increase time spent on publication websites, as now users will be tempted to continue to view more pages their friends have liked after visiting a site for an unrelated reason. And comments made by Facebook's Vice President of Product Chris Cox at the f8 conference may hint at Facebook's potential to support citizen and crowd-sourced journalism in the future.
The implementation of Social Plugins used by newspapers is, he said, "about taking that wisdom (from newspapers) and supplementing it with all the things that people around me know matter and the stories and interpretations of what they think."
"I would like to read what the journalists said in tandem with what all of you have said--your stories, your pictures, your interpretations," he added. "What you think."
It's still unclear what public reaction to these new changes will be, but thus far, there has been no overwhelming outcry from Facebook users over the added functionality. But the changes will certainly anger some Facebook competitors across the web, most prominently Google, whose focus on hyperlinking websites could be overshadowed by Facebook's focus on social links between websites.
Regardless of public response, this new focus on a social web, where people have a consistent identity throughout all aspects of their internet browsing, is likely to offer a wide expanse of options to newspaper publishers to increase interest on their websites. The challenge now is how to use these functions to their fullest capacity.