There’s a debate in progress over Facebook’s new “like” buttons and “Open Graph API”, with open web advocates questioning the true “openness” of the new platform, and Facebook arguing that the move is good for the web.
For those not clued in, here’s a 10-point guide to the debate and my take on who’s right:
1. OPEN GRAPH: Facebook launched its “Open Graph” on Wednesday, including “like” buttons that let users express interest in any piece of content on the web, sharing that data back to their Facebook profiles.
2. PUBLISHER INCENTIVES: Publishers are rushing to add these “like” buttons to their sites, plus other “Social Plugins” from Facebook (and more complex Open Graph implementations), since every time someone “Likes” something on your website, it creates a link back from the person’s Facebook page. Websites can also display the most relevant content to any user based on their friends and likes. All of which means more traffic and revenue for publishers.
3. SOME PARTS OPEN: Publishers are also adding data to these pages to identify specific items — like, say, identifying that a piece of content is a song, and including the title and band name (aka semantic data). This makes it easy for Facebook to organize their database of everything on the web — this semantic data is also accessible to rivals like Google.
4. SOME PARTS CLOSED: The “likes” data isn’t really accessible to Facebook’s rivals — unless they implement Facebook logins on their sites, Google and the rest can’t get unlimited access to your “likes”. So, Facebook is building a database of the world’s preferences, but won’t give others access unless they promote Facebook on their sites (by using Facebook logins).
5. OPEN ALTERNATIVES: There are open alternatives to Facebook logins (eg. Open ID), but publishers rarely use those because they don’t drive traffic and signups like Facebook logins do.
6. NO EXPORT: Facebook also doesn’t let users export all their “likes” at once. If a rival builds a better service and you want to export and re-import all your “likes” to the new one, you can’t do that easily. So Facebook is building a database of information about you, but you don’t really own it: Facebook does.
7. LESS CHOICE: Open web advocates argue that it’s bad for users if you’re locked in to one system — rivals can’t build better systems and provide choice.
8. KEY TO SUCCESS: Facebook’s critics are correct, but unless Facebook keeps the “social graph” locked up in its database, the company can’t take over the web with a widely-used ID system and capture value for itself (ie. make lots of money).
9. MARKETING TERM: The implicit allegation is that Facebook is merely using “open” as a marketing term, since the Open Graph API isn’t fully open. That’s somewhat true since Facebook’s value proposition relies on keeping some of that data “closed”.
10. FACEBOOK WINS: Facebook has won the web by solving the identity problem for users and publishers. They’ve also helped to advance efforts around the semantic web. Rivals will try to fight back with a truly open solution, but without the correct incentive (lots of traffic for publishers), how can they compete?
Bottom line: when a company solves a problem, should we be surprised that they solve it in a way that creates value for both customers and the company itself? Isn’t that how capitalism works?