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When Facebook announced plans to make their social network portable, I envisioned some sort of toolbar sitting in the corner of my browser, alerting me to friend updates. The reality is much cooler.
At Facebook’s F8 conference on July 23, CEO Mark Zuckerberg unveiled tools enabling Web sites to integrate Facebook profiles and friend lists deeply with their properties. For example, blog company Six Apart built a feature allowing users to append their Facebook pictures to comments on its blogs. (For more coverage see my colleague Rob Hof’s live blog of the event here .)
The feature employs new privacy settings from Facebook that allow users to limit how their information is shared. So, users’ photos are only shared if they proactively agree to it. “We have paid a lot of attention to making sure that… people have a lot of control,” said Zuckerberg during his keynote at the San Francisco Design Center. “We learned from last time.”
I can see how such tools would get me to use Facebook and their partner sites more. To use another example from F8, if I’m on Digg, I would be interested in seeing stories my Facebook friends commented on or submitted. Having such information would make me more likely to check out those stories on Digg, as well as check out Facebook’s news feed to see what stories my friends are reading on the social news site.
More importantly, I think that Facebook Connect—as Facebook has dubbed the new features—redefines what a portal is in this new open, portable Web. It’s not a homepage, or your mail client, or a site where you import bits of other sites. The new portal is the company that keeps the data that you use to better interact with sites throughout the Web.
It’s the site that’s always there because it’s a crucial part of every other site out there.
I can see how this would drive both adoption and additional revenue for Facebook. Sites, hoping to encourage audience members to stay longer and consume more content, would implement Facebook tools so that their users could see what friends were doing on the their site, communicate, and easily share content. Facebook would gain by becoming more ubiquitous across the Web, thereby encouraging more users to sign up in order to become part of the community on other sites they visit. It could also, potentially, work out integrating ads on the Facebook community tools it provides other sites. (Facebook would also gain access to more information about user habits and behaviors that it could use to target ads).
The existing portals better watch out.