24 July

Facebook f8

Last night it was my pleasure to watch the livestreaming of Mark Zuckerberg’s keynote speech at the f8 conference, courtesy of Sun Startup Essentials.

In truth, the speech wasn’t phenomenally exciting – but then again, Facebook is no longer a novelty. It’s now a technology entrenched in our online lives (latest stats say it’s reached a record 45% share of the social networking market in the UK) and this was more about that technology maturing than wowing the world.

First off, Facebook gets a long-awaited redesign – for too long the design has reconciled the old pre-application Facebook with the slew of innovations and applications since. Gone is the one-page look in favour of a tabbed layout. The primary tab is now about telling a story – combining information generated by a person, with information generated by others about that person, interleaving the two in the timeline. I like this idea – the concept of storytelling works so well – but it will take time to show whether it will generate a story worth telling.

Those stories will get more meat on their bones with the main theme of the event – decentralising Facebook across the web. Spearheading this will be the launch of Facebook Connect, which aims to do for the rest of the web what the applications Platform does for Facebook. In short, it will allow participating sites to use Facebook logins as a means of authentication, and activity on that site will show up on Facebook. If this second party sounds familiar then you’re right – the technology is similar to the highly controversial Facebook Beacon, which did things such as log your purchases from Amazon (and thus allegedly ruining Christmas). Only this time they’ve done what they should have done in the first place – targeting social media sites such as Digg, Six Apart, and Citysearch (all beta testers) and worrying about monetization and e-commerce later.

More details in this press release. In a way it’s combining social media aggregation services such as FriendFeed and MyBlogLog with pervasive ID services such as Disqus or OpenID. Not only is it an attempt to muscle in on those services, but the use of Facebook for authentification rather than email could be Facebook’s attention on usurping email as a tool of communication.

At the heart of it is a good idea – making web experiences more social and coherent – and it will be interesting to see how this pans out when it goes ahead this autumn. Edd, one of our developers who was with me at the event, expressed doubts that people such as himself, who like to keep their online identities across different sites separate, would be willing to tie together their different profiles; I on the other hand, using the same ID across all sites, would probably find it OK (I already import my blog, Twitter and del.icio.us into my Facebook profile). The privacy aspects were touched on but not really expounded (will Connect report what YouTube videos you’ve been watching, or if you log into, say, a dating site? Both could damage rather than enhance one’s social relations) and that’s the biggest obstacle for me – convincing people this data sharing will be benign and helpful, after the Beacon fiasco.

One final thought – there wasn’t much talk about mobile, although there were brief mentions of an iPhone API for Connect coming out as well. From a UK perspective, given the explosion in mobile internet use and cool stuff that’s out like the Facebook application for iPhone, to me that seems an oversight on their part.

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