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Internet Future Authors: Jason Bloomberg, Scott Allen, Bob Gourley, Paul Miller, Solar VPS

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Facebook Rocks the Web

Facebook's F8 Keynote is a must watch (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CfLBZcEpG_I - four parts) for the future of the web. The announcements have already led to a lot of commentary - and alarm in some cases about what it might mean for the openness of the web. Check our Chris Messina's posts here and here for great commentary in the text and comments. It's even lead to to a nascent group to provide an alternative mechanism for some of Facebook's new features - openlike (see here for the homepage).

There are ton of things in Facebooks's announcements: 

  • Simplyfing their own API (check out: http://graph.facebook.com/stevenwillmott -> that's me in JSON format, if you were authorised you could also get /events /updates, /whatever...) - couldn't be simpler. 
  • A number of plugins for web sites that can overlay facebook's information from your profile correlated to the domain of the website your visiting on that site.
  • New meta-data to mark up web pages with semantic information which facebook can use to understand people's relationship with the content on the page - Michael Bleigh hits the nail on the head when he calls it a private beta of the semantic web
  • One particular plugin which provides a "like button" that allows a user to "like" content on any site using the plugin and signal that like back to facebook - either into the activity stream of the user or even to create a meaningful connection if some of the aforementioned meta-data is present (for example all of IMDB's movie web pages now include meta-data so if you "like" one of them it goes straight into your list of favorite movies on facebook).
  • Facebook adopting openAuth (oAuth) as it's authentication standard - a great step for openAuth adoption.
  • Some deeper integrations with selected web sites which allow deep access to the user profile even without logging in. 

Together with the strong growth of Facebook connect these announcements are really powerful - as Mark Zuckerberg puts it in the keynote - the web is becoming "social by default" and facebook is putting itself at the center of this people centric web (maybe a bit too central too quickly).

The changes mostly mean the potential for a better web - with more meta-data and more information available to all, as well as more gravitation to standards like openAuth, but there's clear concern that they facebook's march will lead to a single provider world for identity and social relationships. To me, the moves they made make huge business sense - and they are right to push the envelope - throwing down the gauntlet to others to innovate. However, there are several things which are worrying:

  • While the meta-data formats are open and some data can be extracted back out of facebook, facebook is in effect making itself the curator of the link information - of what is connected to what - this is hugely powerful, important information (Yuval Kogman makes the same point). 
  • While it's possible to get data back on a person by person basis (using open auth) the aggregate data isn't available unless Facebook chooses to release it, for some things such as friend links this makes sense since it's private data arguably, however for others such as "likes" it's not obvious that this wouldn't be better available publicly - the web would be a better place of "like" data was open (openlike would be a good thing if it succeeds).
  • The moves will massively reinforce Facebooks lead as an "identity provider" - the place where users aggregate their lives on the web - not just on facebook but increasingly on all other web properties. Healthier would be if multiple such providers large and small could co-exist.

Obviously many social sites walk this thin line between retaining information as competitive advantage and for user privacy reasons and exposing it to add to the information on the web. The more of the "edges" of the graph that facebook keeps private the worse for the web (and the more self-serving for facebook) these announcement's are. 

I suspect that F8 next year or the year after could see the announcement of the opening of not only READ APIs into facebook but also more and more WRITE APIs which allow everything from friending to user creation. Facebook.com will become just one of the many consumers of the facebook API. This will allow third parties to build essentially parallel facebook.com's with different interfaces. While Facebook might now want to do this for brand control reasons, it makes total sense in the long run. 

This might in turn be of huge benefit to the web since the APIs in turn might become standardized and adopted by other identity / profile providers - the social graph might open right back out again if it becomes possible to "friend" across providers. 

Read the original blog entry...

More Stories By Steven Willmott

Steven Willmott is Co-Founder & CEO of 3scale - a leading provider of mission critical Web Services / API infrastructure services. The company helps web businesses of all types launch and manage Web Service access to digital content and services - accelerating their move to the Cloud. Prior to 3scale, Wilmott was previously the R&D director of one of the leading European research groups on distributed systems and Artificial Intelligence at the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya in Barcelona, Spain. He has 10 years of technical experience in Web Services, Semantic Web, network technology and the management of large-scale international R&D teams. He is also an expert advisor to the European Commission's Future Internet Research Infrastructure program.