That day has come for Facebook.
Facebook wants everything and everyone; specifically, every detail about us: our social graph, our preferences, our interests, history, tastes and activities.
This is the impetus of today’s announcements, Timeline and the opening of a more intelligent Open Graph to the development community. The essence of these changes is that, with Timeline, the Facebook profile becomes a kind of life story, a scrapbook on steroids, complete with posts, photos, videos, music played, books and newspapers read.
Timeline turns everyone into a curator, a media property and, at its most basic level, an activity stream.
As part of this set of announcements, Facebook is also making its Open Graph available to all Facebook developers, which will enable developers to integrate their apps deeply into the Facebook experience.
With these moves, Facebook has taken a huge leap: of ambition–of faith and certainly of hubris–toward becoming the de facto information source for how we collectively and individually share, communicate and influence each other. “Pretty soon,” Robert Scoble commented, “Facebook is going to know everything about everyone.”
With Timeline, Facebook users will have to assimilate quite a bit of change: not only to the user interface but to the type and mode of sharing. Rather than the standard status update or check-in, Timeline facilitates “passive sharing,” in which the act of reading an article, listening to a piece of music or sharing a movie review becomes a status update in and of itself. Will everyone like it? Certainly not at first. (As a matter of fact, I was somewhat surprised to see that I was automatically checked in to F8 today, a fact that I learned when a friend “Liked” my check-in, updating my notification stream. Was I nonplussed? Yes, a little.)
While consumers resist or accommodate themselves to these changes, brands will face a data bonanza the likes of which they have never seen. In addition to the changes announced today, Facebook users will be able to move beyond the “Like” button to indicate whether they have “Read” a book or article,”Listened” to a song or radio show, “Watched” a show or movie or even “Bought” a sweater or “Cooked” a recipe. And with Open Graph, there is no limit to the verbs that can be used to indicate preference and behavior.
Of course, with great power comes great responsibility, not only on the level of privacy and data gathering but also of data analysis. While “Like” could mean any number of things (for example, I like Tom Waits, The True Colors Fund and my friend Kristen’s pear bread recipe, though all in different ways), app developers and by extension marketers will be able to track preference and activity at a new level of granularity. As a result, the onus will be on the brand to interpret the meaning of these behaviors and appropriately personalize content so that consumers feel they are being heard, rather than just crudely targeted.
Here’s a hypothetical example: I happen to be a big fan of the Food Network series “Chopped,” in which chefs compete to cook the best meal possible out of a range of often bizarre ingredients. Imagine that I “Watch” the show, and, intrigued, decide to “Buy” a cookbook recently published by one of the judges. A week later, I “Cook” one of the recipes.
In the past, I may have “Liked” the show, but in most circumstances that wouldn’t tell Food Network anything about whether I acted on my affection by buying a related cookbook or by actually making one of the recipes. They know I like them, but they don’t know whether I “like them like them,” as we used to say in middle school.
Now I have given Food Network three specific data points, as opposed to the rather blunt instrument of “Like.” I’ve told them I’m a fan, I’m a consumer, a cook and perhaps even an advocate. And, because it’s Facebook, they also know my age, that I’m married and that I like Tom Waits and pear bread. Imagine the possibilities.
This is of course just an amuse-bouche for what is to come, both with sharing and with social data, so I’ll start to break it down in future posts. In the meantime, I welcome your thoughts about Timeline, Open Graph and the rapidly-shifting challenges and opportunities of social analytics.
- For a deep dive into the implications of today’s news, check out Brian Solis’ post, entitled “The New Facebook: A Timeline for Personal Discovery and Storytelling.”
- For a look at the future of sharing, please read Charlene Li’s post, “Facebook Timeline Reveals the Future of Sharing.”