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4/21/2010
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Facebook Opens Up Social Tools To Broader Web

At its developer conference, the soc-net powerhouse let loose plug-ins which will extend its platform throughout the Web and potentially strengthen its hand versus Google.

At its f8 annual developer conference, Facebook on Wednesday introduced three new technologies designed to broaden the social network's ties to external Web sites.

These include: Social Plugins, which allow Web sites to add Facebook-style social interaction using an HTML iFrame; the Open Graph Protocol, a way to let Facebook users add external Web pages to their profiles and to provide developers with access to Facebook analytics data; and the Graph API, a rewrite of Facebook's core developer code to allow easier development on the Facebook platform.

In so doing, Facebook is advancing its alternative to Google's search-based approach to organizing the world's information and making it universally accessible.

Though Google's approach has become more like Facebook's, with a social focus, the two companies remain competitors. As if to prove that, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced the beta availability of Docs.com, Microsoft's new online site for creating and sharing Office documents, which happens to support Facebook logins.

Facebook wants people and their social connections, what the company calls the social graph, to inform how information is searched, presented and shared online.

In his keynote presentation, Zuckerberg said that the Web today exists mostly as a series of unstructured links between pages. By providing Web publishers and developers with code that taps the Facebook social graph, he argues that the Web can become more personal and more semantically meaningful.

"Social experiences are a lot more engaging," declared Zuckerberg.

Facebook hopes to bring the tropes and mechanisms of social networking, the Like button and Facebook's login window, for example, to other Web sites.

In short, Facebook's vision is to turn the Web pages into the equivalent of the bar in the television show Cheers -- a place where everybody knows your name.

Were CNN to adopt Facebook's new technology, for example, it could show visitors what CNN content their friends read and shared, something that in Zuckerberg's view would be a better experience than the private viewing experience that exists today.

Zuckerberg said that Facebook was doing away with its past policy that developers' applications are not allowed to store or cache data for more than 24 hours. He also said that the complex permissions menus presented to users of Facebook Connect have been streamlined and combined into a single permissions menu.

With over 400 million users, Facebook could well become the Web's dominant identity and content sharing system. It's certainly easier to drop Facebook code into one's Web pages than to build a login system and social features from scratch.

What's difficult is seeing how this dependence might constrain or disempower Web sites in the future.

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