Facebook’s announcements at f8 today represent a vision of the social web that I strongly believe in: one where our experiences online, as offline, are intrinsically and persistently social; one where communication is embedded in the fabric of the web; one where ‘social’, broadly defined, is a primary layer instead of a surface application.
TechCrunch explains just how powerful this vision can be:
Add some “like” buttons and anytime someone likes a restaurant, song, or movie anywhere on the Web with a Facebook like button, that information will flow back into the Open Graph. So that Yelp will know what restaurants you and your friends have liked elsewhere and take that into consideration when giving you recommendations, or Pandora with music, and so on.
Unfortunately, Facebook’s announcements at f8 also represent the single greatest threat to the achievement of that vision.
I’ve written in the past about the challenges Facebook poses to innovation on the social web. The launch of Open Graph takes us from orange to red. Here’s why:
At first glance, the scenario described above appears to be a win for all parties. Yelp and Pandora get to make more relevant recommendations and add more value to their users’ experiences. Providing more value to your users means you can extract more value in exchange. Users receive more value from these external sites because their friends are better at making recommendations than some algorithm developed in some engineer’s garage. And Facebook, sitting at the nexus of this information exchange, begins to learn more about internet users than anyone else. Knowing more about users than anyone else means you can charge a premium for access to that knowledge.
So where’s the rub?
With a user base of 400 million, the promise of dead-simple integration, and an experience that can offer so much immediate value to current and prospective users, Facebook’s Open Graph will be the single social solution of choice for most publishers.
But what if I want to share my activity with co-workers on LinkedIn? What if I want to share my activity with followers on Twitter? What if I want to share my activity with a product that has yet to be built, whose founders are yet to be born?
Beyond sharing, what if the face I want to present to Yelp is different than the face I want to present to Pandora? What if I have music friends and restaurant friends and they have a totally different set of likes and dislikes?
The 500 people I am connected to on facebook are comprised of co-workers, family, friends, best friends, camp friends, and friends from my semester abroad in Scotland. My profile data on Facebook is different from my profile data on Google, Twitter, LinkedIn, Flickr, and Tumblr. Each profile has a relevant context.
I fundamentally believe that no single social web service can accurately represent the identity of a human being. In the offline world we present different personalities in different social contexts. There is a nuance to identity in the offline world that is not easily replicable in a single, catch-all, generic, online social experience. I can’t quite crystallize why this is important, but my hunch is that this human nuance is critical to meaningful social interaction.
The future we should fight for is one where users decide which profile to present when, and to which sub-group of ‘friends’. If Facebook were serious about building the social web together they would recognize that they cannot do it alone.
Metaphysics aside, in the long run competition benefits the user more than seamless vertical integration. Of course, in mature industries there are always barriers to entry – I doubt that any new search startup will have an easy time eroding Google’s 60% market share – but what is at stake here is more important than search intention and advertising dollars.
What is at stake is the promise of the social web – the potential for relevant, dynamic, and nuanced social interaction through a medium we are just beginning to understand.
Let’s raise hell when proprietary solutions threaten the future we know we want. Let’s build towards this vision with tools that foster innovation and promote the true dynamism of human identity.