Facebook and the future of our online lives

1Executive Summary

In the spring of 2010, at its first developer conference (known as f8), Facebook announced what it called its “open graph platform.” Despite its somewhat boring name, this platform — which included Facebook Connect and the “Like” buttons and other widgets that soon became ubiquitous on the web — radically changed how Facebook operated. It has also effectively reshaped the way online media and content functions in all kinds of important ways.

At the second f8 conference on September 22, the social network giant launched another series of features that are just as sweeping and potentially just as disruptive for the web as Facebook Connect was. We’ve bundled our news and analysis into a single report to examine these changes and what they hold for the future.

One of the new features is a total reworking of the Facebook profile, the home page for most Facebook users. As Colleen Taylor writes, it has been replaced by Timeline, a visual representation of all the content a user has posted to the site since they became a member. Ryan Kim took a look at what this says about our desire (and Facebook’s) to mine the past for significance, while Janko Roettgers examined the data-visualization guru who helped create the feature. Om wrote about the technology behind the new page.

Even more potentially disruptive than the Timeline, however, is the launch of what Facebook calls “social apps,” including a real-time music-sharing app from Spotify and a movie-sharing app from Hulu, as well as newspaper-reading apps from The Washington Post, The Guardian and News Corp.’s The Daily. Unlike existing apps, which require users to click a “Like” or “share” button every time they want to interact with a piece of content, social apps will — once they are given permission — post everything the user does to the new “ticker” of real-time activity on their Facebook page. This allows for what CEO Mark Zuckerberg called “frictionless sharing” of various kinds of activity with friends.

Colleen wrote about the rationale behind newspapers such as The Washington Post launching their social apps, which are designed to reach readers on Facebook who might never visit the paper’s actual website. And while that is an appealing prospect, I discuss how this kind of behavior — setting up a virtual storefront of sorts inside a “walled garden” like Facebook — feels very much like what media companies did with the early Internet portals such as AOL and CompuServe.

In contrast to The Washington Post and The Guardian, other media entities such as The Independent and Yahoo News have chosen to integrate Facebook’s advanced sharing features into their own websites — and thus get the benefits of the sharing that occurs on the network — rather than package their content within Facebook. Which approach is better remains to be seen.

Whatever one thinks about the Timeline or the new social apps and their “frictionless sharing,” there’s no question that Facebook’s new features are going to have ripple effects that spread throughout the digital media sphere as companies try to figure out how they can get access to Facebook’s 800 million users and track their behavior. You can be sure we’ll be covering more about all of these developments in the future, both for GigaOM and for GigaOM Pro.

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