The social networking site Facebook on Wednesday expanded and simplified the ways in which people can use its service to express their interests and intentions online. The plans, announced during the company's developer conference in San Francisco, are designed to make the Web "instantly personal and social," says CEO Mark Zuckerberg (pictured).
New Facebook "social plugins" will allow sites outside Facebook to incorporate more than just the company's omnipresent "Share" buttons. The company will now offer outside sites the ability to use its "Like" feature, a button that, when clicked, adds a link to that page or site to your Facebook profile and announces your interest to your Facebook friends.
The ability to create such expressions and communicate them is already available in countless online forums. Facebook's coup has been to gradually convince more people to express themselves through its service, centralizing the information under its umbrella and creating a powerful central destination for both its users and the advertisers that want to reach them.
A Monstrous Database
The end result of this monetizable, monstrous database of people's interests and relationships is what Zuckerberg calls the "Open Graph," a world in which connections, actions and intent are neatly labeled, such as when people elucidate their social connections through becoming Facebook "friends," express their intent to attend an event or express their interest in a band by "Liking" it.
"These connection aren't just happening on Facebook," said Zuckerberg. "They're happening all over the Web. Today, with the open graph, we're going to bring all of these together."
The company expects to serve 1 billion Like buttons on the Web in the first 24 hours of launching it late Wednesday.
Watchdogs Are Barking
The new features, dubbed "instant personalization" in Facebook's Privacy Settings panel, will be able to access any information users have made visible to the all-encompassing "everyone" group in their Facebook networks as well as all publicly available information.
For many of Facebook's users, that means they'll be sharing their name, profile picture, gender, current city, networks, friend list and pages with any Facebook-enhanced application or website they visit.
That has raised the hackles of watchdogs like the American Civil Liberties Union. The legal group said in a blog posting Wednesday that it "isn't clear whether users will have real control over how their connections are shared" and that while Facebook users may be able to may be able to "hide" their social connections from other Facebook users, they still have no protection from "government, advertisers, or anyone else with the ability and incentive to create apps or pages."
Users Concerned, Publishers Pleased
"If you quit Facebook, will you soon be isolating yourself from the rest of the web?" former SplashCast Media CEO Mike Berkley asked his followers on Twitter.
An anonymous commenter, "derek_mashable," on the social media news site Mashable claimed to do just that, following the announcement: "Looks like every 3rd party site may soon have access to your public profile when you visit their site. This is scary to me," the person wrote.
Other users around the Web have voiced concern about updates to Facebook's privacy policies, which include the reminder that opting out of the "Open Graph" instant personalization still means "your friends may still share public Facebook information about you to personalize their experience on these partner sites unless you block the application" -an action that takes additional steps to complete.
Such concerns haven't appeared to bother some of the web's most popular publishers, including CNN.com and The Washington Post online, both of which now display a list of stories your Facebook friends have indicated their interest in by clicking "Like" buttons on the sites. Microsoft too has gotten into the game, launching an experimental social document sharing service called Docs.com
More than 400 Million Strong
There are more than 400 million people on Facebook, Zuckerberg reported at the conference. That's huge growth since this time last year, when the company reported having about 100 million users. At that time, the company announced Facebook Connect, a package of features designed retrain the focus of on the Web instead of on social networks themselves.
Zuckerberg called the features announced Wednesday "the most transformative thing we have ever done for the Web."
The company is seeing especially fast growth in the number of users accessing the site from mobile devices, Zuckerberg said. About 36 million people are using Facebook via mobile devices, while about 55 million use Facebook.com
Becoming More Open
Facebook is also becoming more open to having its content searched by outside developers, said Bret Taylor, head of Facebook Platform products. Developers outside the company can now create applications that can search for people and events news feed items.
Facebook provided updates on the company's developer tools and programs, such as Facebook Credits, a virtual currency system currently in beta testing with 100 developers.
"Our goal with credits is to make it so people can use a single currency in every app that they use," said Zuckerberg.
"We're building towards a Web where the default is social," he said.
This story was updated on April 22, 2010.