Sunday, November 30, 2008

Facebook Aims to Extend Its Reach Across the Web

NY Times December 1, 2008

Facebook Aims to Extend Its Reach Across the Web

PALO ALTO, Calif. — Facebook, the Internet’s largest social network, wants to let you take your friends with you as you travel the Web. [snip]

Facebook Connect, as the company’s new feature is called, allows its members to log onto other Web sites using their Facebook identification and see their friends’ activities on those sites. Like Beacon, the controversial advertising program that Facebook introduced and then withdrew last year after it raised a hullabaloo over privacy, Connect also gives members the opportunity to broadcast their actions on those sites to their friends on Facebook.

In the next few weeks, a number of prominent Web sites will weave this service into their pages, including those of the Discovery Channel and The San Francisco Chronicle, the social news site Digg, the genealogy network Geni and the online video hub Hulu.


For example, a person might alert his Facebook friends to the fact that he is watching a video on and invite them to join him there to watch together and discuss the video as it plays.

“Everyone is looking for ways to make their Web sites more social,” said Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer. “They can build their own social capabilities, but what will be more useful for them is building on top of a social system that people are already wedded to.”

MySpace, Yahoo and Google have all announced similar programs this year, using common standards that will allow other Web sites to reduce the work needed to embrace each identity system. Facebook, which is using its own data-sharing technology, is slightly ahead of its rivals.


This is where Facebook Connect could help. No money changes hands between Facebook and the sites using Connect, and executives are wary of discussing how it could bring in revenue.

But there are some obvious possibilities.

Facebook has detailed information about its users: their real identities, what they like and dislike and whom they associate with. With a member’s permission, it could use that data to help other Web sites deliver more personalized ads. Similarly, those sites could tell Facebook what its users are doing elsewhere, helping to make its own ads more targeted.

“It’s becoming very clear that advertisers don’t know how to advertise on Facebook,” said Charlene Li, an independent consultant and social media analyst. “But if you take a group of Facebook friends and put them on a travel site where they are spending more time and generating more ad dollars in a focused area like travel, that is an opportunity ripe for getting revenues back and sharing it.”


For now, Facebook is also carefully authorizing each partner in the Connect program and reviewing how it will use data on Facebook members and discuss the feature publicly. It plans to allow Web sites to register themselves for Connect, without having to seek approval, in the next few weeks.


When asked about the potential promises and pitfalls of Connect, Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, said: “We want to make the experience as lightweight and easy to use as possible. But we also have to make sure that people understand what’s going on and have control over it.”

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