The world wide web used to be simple: you had websites and you had Google indexing them. Based on the ‘Google formula’ they would rank in a way Google thought was best, and we’d agree. Ok, this might be a little bit exaggerated, but its the essence of how we work with Google. Yesterday at the Facebook f8 conference however things changed.
Google is one of the biggest players, if not the biggest player out there. There have been many over the past decade who have tried to compete with the search giant and none of them really succeeded. Bing probably made the most impact, but only because it won a few percentages of market share in the search area. But now Facebook has stepped in. And they make a very good chance of ‘beating’ Google when it comes to web dominance.
Facebook announced several new features with the new Open Graph API, the social plugins and the Open Graph protocol as biggest changes. These elements are supposed to change the way we look at the web. Using this API Facebook will try to integrate websites and applications with your social network. This will mean different ‘points’ on the web you use are connected using your social circle. As Zuckerberg said: people are connecting the web, not links.
The new features make it possible that sites connect based on your social profile. If for example you “liked” a movie on one site, another site can serve you related information. This would mean for example that you could get Amazon offers based on your behavior on imdb.com.
The changes mean a different look at how we ‘rate’ the web. Where with Google a link is a ‘vote’, with Facebook a ‘like’ is a vote. That seems like not a big deal. But it is. Lets take a closer look. Why is this a big deal?
Nobody can ‘kill’ Google, but Facebook could get very close. With many big sites already implementing the ‘like’ functionality in the first 24 hours (Zuckerberg told the audience at F8 that they expected to have already 1 billion ‘likes’ within 24 hours) Facebook will be getting a lot of data on which sites people like very fast. Which means they can built up their services, their ‘new way of searching’ really fast.
There is a big difference with for example Bing and Wolfram Alpha, recent challengers of Google: Facebook already has the users. They can built their data really fast but they can also built up their user base really fast. After all, if you’re already familiar with Facebook, you’ll be easier tempted to be using the services.
These two areas, the data and the users, is where Facebook is battling Google. With the huge amount of data which Facebook gathers, a semantic web comes closer. It’s an alternative to searching. No, search (and thus Google) won’t disappear, but Facebook has given the users an alternative. And that alternative is based on what your social circle is doing. The data will also help Facebook in improving their search functionality which in a way might compete with Google.
There is a big ‘but’ to it though. The searches on Facebook might not be as accurate as you hope. It will be based on likes, which means its people making the choices. Because the like button is most probably used most on the bigger sites, the bigger sites will become even more important. After all, as a small site it will be harder to get as many likes as the bigger ones.
The second big thing, something which was mentioned several times at F8 yesterday, is the privacy issue. Where Google is running into privacy matters in Europe and even in the US, Facebook will follow shortly, without any doubt.
All the data which Facebook gathers, stores and then makes available for third parties, is all privacy-sensitive. Yes, you are ‘liking’ the sites yourself so you are ‘giving away’ the data yourself, but Facebook is connecting the dots.
Let me try to explain why connecting the dots could be a privacy hell. Imagine this: you are buying a bread in the supermarket which has discount passes. That means they know what you bought. You payed with your bank card, so the bank now knows where you spent your money. Meanwhile you get gas outside of the supermarket so the bank now knows you came with the car, bought the bread and had gas. The gas station also knows which kind of gas and the fact that you decided to buy that candy-bar which was staring at you next to the counter. All bits of information which are separately not that important. But now here’s one company which allows you to say whether or not you liked the services. In return, they store every bit of information, so the bread, the candybar, the gas, all of it. And then they sell, or give away, that data to a third party, lets say a gym. Who now knows you ate bread and a candy bar and that you didn’t use your bike but your car to get it. They will offer you an extra training probably…
Now, an extra training might not be that bad, but what if you decided you were going to buy condoms? Or cigarettes which you agreed on not to do with your wife or doctor? This information will then also be available for third parties.
This is an offline example but what Facebook is doing is trying to connect these dots online. They are the ones handing out the information to third parties. So they will be telling your wife you bought the cigarettes.
To be fair. This doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing. It can really help you. The information you will be getting will be much more personal. You just have to make sure your privacy settings are in order. If you don’t want people to know you bought a candybar or a package of cigarettes, don’t pay with your bank account. If you don’t want people to know what your online behavior is, act on that and take care of your privacy settings.
The privacy issues will without a doubt be subject to discussion in the future. For now, it really looks as if Facebook has shifted gears and is trying to change the web.
And be sure to look at Zuckerbergs press conference below: