It's hard to absorb the rest of the web experience if all you have to offer is a walled garden. Facebook's (site) solution? Spread itself out onto the web like vines (or is it weeds?) over the wall through a new API.
The Open Graph API
Part of Facebook's proposed mechanism for integrating itself into the rest of the Web is the Open Graph API. Through this API, page creators can embed various Facebook widgets and API calls into their own sites.
An example of how this new API might be used involves a site's developer embedding a Facebook Fan Box into their main site page. Then, when a user clicks the "Become a Fan" button, this action is sent to Facebook, which records the change (a feature that of course already exists). The difference is that from that point on, content from the site can be pushed to the user's stream.
Where Is This Going?
The Open Graph API is still under discussion and isn't available for use yet. According to the roadmap, the initial versions are expected in the second quarter of 2010.
More importantly, the Open Graph API is just one prong in a broader movement. As Nick O'Neill at All Facebook discussed in mid-2009, "Mark Zuckerberg has said on a number of instances that the future of Facebook does not exist on Facebook.com."
Instead, says O'Neill, the folks at Facebook are working toward seeing their brand as an "identity platform" that focuses around an ever-expanding Facebook Connect. For businesses, he sees the extension of Facebook Pages out onto the web as another step in the evolution of customer relations.
"One thing that’s changing is the way that customers communicate with businesses," he says. "On Twitter we now regularly see people complain about their Comcast cable experience because they have learned that Comcast will respond. It gives them an outlet for their frustration and a platform for immediate satisfaction. This is a fundamental shift in consumer behavior."
As consumers get used to this level of interaction, his theory is that people will come to demand it. Right now, people complain through whatever social media platform the company appears to listen to. So providing companies with better ways to integrate their presence with Facebook increases the chances that people will use Facebook to complain about the product — and so, to be heard.
And if your platform is the one where people get heard, your platform is the one with the power. It also gives them yet more data for delivering targeted ads and services, just as Google (site) has all of its data from its many properties to do the same.
So Who Really Wins Here?
Well, if sites adopt the new APIs, companies can win if they use the platform to genuinely interact with their customers and build brand interest, buzz, and loyalty. Consumers might win if they manage to be heard and get results.
But ultimately it's Facebook who needs the rest of the web in order to remain relevant, let alone generate revenue. In the fickle world of social networking, it's all too easy to become a "might have been." Given the drive to evolve through projects such as these, they might yet avoid becoming the Internet version of a ghost town.