Facebook has already given us new meanings for words such as "friend" and "poke." Now, it's aiming to put its own spin on the word "like," slapping the word on a button that Facebook executives hope will tie content across the web together on a single networking platform-its own.
Facebook users may not have caught the subtle shift in the Like feature, which was formally launched in April, right away. After all, users can already show that they like their friends' photos, status updates, and other content by clicking on a button to give it their virtual thumbs-up. In the past, users could "Become a fan" of brands, products, companies, and more by signing on to dedicated group pages hosted on Facebook.
The new Like combines both the Become a fan and the standard Like options by giving website operators the option of placing a Facebook-branded Like button on individual content items.
Currently, all it takes is one line of HTML to drop a Like button onto nearly any standard webpage. Once a user clicks on that button, the content will be shared on his or her Facebook News Feed and user page, along with a link to the original page. The feature also shows how many of the user's friends have also liked an item, as well as how many Facebook users have made the click.
Beyond the ability to Like, Facebook is touting Open Graph as a way for websites to integrate the tools of Facebook, such as Notes, Pictures, Links, and more.
More than 50,000 sites signed on to use the Like button the first week after it was announced by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg at the annual f8 Developer Conference. Before the Open Graph tool box was formally launched, Zuckerberg and the Facebook team lined up several digital content heavyweights-including review site Yelp and music service Pandora-as partners in the endeavor.
Another company that's riding the Like wave is foursquare, the mobile app that allows users to "check in" when they spend time at their favorite spots. It has integrated the Like button so that, when Facebook users visit a venue, foursquare will allow them to click on a Like button to instantly share a link to that venue on their Facebook News Feed page.
While the tools may not be all that different from those offered by rivals such as Digg.com, Zuckerberg described the Open Graph initiative as a groundbreaking idea meant to break down barriers between content sites and allow users to collaborate on one platform. "If we can take these separate maps of the graph and pull them together, then we can create a web that is more social, personalized, and semantically aware," Zuckerberg said at f8.
John Blossom, an analyst with Shore Communications, agreed that while the Like button and other Open Graph tools may not be revolutionary ideas, they may help spark a more fundamental shift in the way that content companies interact with members of pre-established web communities, such as Facebook's 400 million users.
"The ‘link economy' of the web that's been fueled by Google's PageRank link evaluation algorithms [used] to determine content relationship between webpages is about to be challenged by the ‘like economy,' in which web-embedded social graphs power the endorsement of web content in the context of metadata, which can power marketing relationships between entities," Blossom said. "Expect that Google will jump into the ‘like economy' more directly soon, but Facebook has stolen the march for now."
The real value of Facebook's shift may be the way that it encourages web developers to create a richer set of metadata for pages that will help make content across the web more connective, Blossom said. "For example, if you know there are 12,000 people who like a page about a particular football player, the metadata associated with that player may enable Facebook-and ultimately, marketers-to look at other intersections of interest along the social graph between those people and that football player," Blossom said. "Being able to match interests to communities and goods and services could turn online advertising into highly targeted online marketing far more effectively through these tools."
Facebook's latest move is not without backlash-the same surrounding the launch of its ill-fated Beacon tool. In some ways, the Like button goes beyond Beacon, putting purchasing and product information-down to phone numbers and maps-directly into users' News Feeds, Blossom said. However, if Facebook has learned how to tread more carefully on the fine line between what users are willing to share and what they want to protect, the experiment could ultimately prove fruitful, both for users and companies, he added.
"If Facebook is too aggressive in turning the Like feature into a feature that propagates too-commercial links, there may be a similar backlash," Blossom said. "But it seems overall that Facebook is pointing us toward a powerful way to turn semantic tagging and social network embedding into a web-wide standard."