Part II: Facebook and Open Graph API

I’ve had a few insightful conversations over the past week on the Open Graph topic (I did a post on the changes, you can find it here.  I also recommend checking out this ReadWriteWeb article by Alex Iskold on the topic).  I’ve had a little more time to explore the subject, so the purpose of this post is to continue the conversation.

The stickiest topic has been about why Facebook would encourage an increase in off-platform activity by pushing to get  Like buttons on non-Facebook sites.  At first glance, it seems that an increase in these semantic bookmarks across the web might discourage marketers from establishing brand pages, applications and custom tabs on the Facebook Platform.  If brands can push content into Facebook users’ streams without having to develop extensive branded experiences inside Facebook, then they will be less likely to buy media from Facebook.  Yes, the value of community will still be important and Facebook Pages will still have value. But invariably brands want to be in users streams and they can easily accomplish this without a Page if Like button use is adopted.

So, there will be less need to buy Facebook media, unless Facebook starts serving ads outside of the platform, which it can easily do with the information it’s collecting:

If Facebook continues to collect user preference data from across the web, it’s ability to target you anywhere (as long as you are logged into Facebook) with relevant information on products and services that you will “Like” becomes a fairly simple process.  This presents a fairly elegant solution for Facebook, which is struggling (I believe) with the challenge of serving users advertisements when they’re ready to buy.  Right now, Facebook serves ads inside Facebook; and users typically aren’t interested in clicking out to make purchases elsewhere on the web (while click-through rates from the stream may be higher,  Facebook media historically doesn’t perform this function well).  If Facebook starts negotiating for inventory outside of its platform, the game changes significantly.

Facebook and the Open Graph API

I’ve wanted to write out my thoughts on the new announcements that Facebook made at their F8 conference; specifically the Open Graph API and how this will affect everyone involved with the platform.   I’ve been waiting to write this until I felt comfortable with the changes, and had the opportunity to build a few social media plans with them in mind.  I haven’t read many other people’s thoughts on this yet so, the following is the closest I can get to my unfiltered comments.

To me (and I think everyone), the most  important change that Facebook has made is to its social plug-ins (you can check them out here to be clear on what they are).  Some of these are new,  some of them are not new but are easier to install on an off-Facebook site (in this post I’m really just talking about the new “Like” feature).  These are all part of the Open Graph API that Facebook is pitching, under the presumption that people really want to connect and discuss the content that they are consuming in other places on the web. I don’t believe that position is far from the truth,  but I do think that there’s a limit to the amount of information that people really want to share with everyone all of the time.

What is undeniable is that this is a big strategic move on the part of Facebook, which continues to evolve into something less like a standalone world, and more like a collection of tubes that are ubiquitous across the web.  Here’s my breakdown of how this change affects major stakeholders:

Non-Facebook Publishers: I think this is mostly a good thing for most publishers. The “Recommend” feature that’s on cnn.com improves the experience on the site.  The “Like” feature can drive Facebook users back to consume on-site content that a reader’s friends “Like”.  These are good things for publishers who drive revenue by selling display advertising.  Are there risks?  I suppose this can take over other forms of sharing, and can become limiting to publishers who would prefer to have direct contact with their readers through actions like email sharing.  Also, any reader preference data shared through Open Graph is (I believe) stored on Facebook’s servers,  which is valuable consumer information that publishers may have to purchase from Facebook in the future.

Facebook Users: The Open Graph adds data to a user’s social graph on Facebook.  Users who “Like” content across the web can now send that preference data back to Facebook and express to their network that they  interacted with content and thought it was cool– the content can become an extension of someone’s personality (the way Pearl Jam’s Ten was an extension of my personality in junior high).  This social graph information is becoming content of its own and people like consuming it.

A dynamic social graph means that there’s always a reason to come back to Facebook to find out more about people: how they have changed, what they like, content recommendations, etc.  We can now get a more complete picture of a Facebook connection, and most users will think that’s a good thing.  The downside/risk is that users may not be interested in sharing all of their off-Facebook preferences and habits.  And, assuming Facebook users actually want to share this information, it’s possible that people’s streams will have a lower signal-to-noise ratio in the future– which can be bad for UX.

Marketers: Because Open Graph gives marketers better ways to integrate the platform on their sites, it possibly gives them less reason to develop immersive experiences on the Page and Tab structure inside Facebook.  These plugins might cannibalize Facebook’s biggest revenue generator, the “cost-per-fan” .  To get an idea of the difference in approach, check out this great example of an in-Facebook campaign; the Microsoft Kin campaign.  A great example of marketers using the Facebook Plugins is on the Levi’s website.

See the top red circle in the top image?  That is really well-integrated social bookmarking.  The result of a user clicking on a like tells my Facebook community that I like Levi’s.  The bookmark  allows me to comment, it gives specific data and the posting links directly back to the website, where my friends can like, or click out to purchase the product.

See the bottom red circle in the top image?  That’s how I can Become a Fan of the Levi’s Facebook Page.  Connecting to the Levi’s Facebook Page might get me a special discount, or some special content, but that’s really not clear to me from this button.  As a marketer, I would much rather have a user “Like” a product than “Become a Fan”.  What this will mean for “cost-per-fan” media in the future is anyone’s guess; I think it’s certain that these changes will affect development and marketing budgets from brands in the future.