SAN FRANCISCO — Facebook continues to open and extend its platform along with its already considerable reach across the Web, today unveiling its new Open Graph protocol aimed at making it easier for its more than 400 million users to mark what they like on sites across the Internet.
The move marks the social networking goliath’s latest effort to provide new functions and services for Web developers and site owners while enriching its reach beyond its own site. Facebook said a Web developer can add a “Like” button to their site with a single line of HTML code that’s part of the Open Graph protocol. Users, meanwhile, can click on the button to indicate found content that they like — instantly adding it to their list of “likes” and their activity feeds for friends to see.
Also, when another user visits that same site, they can see what their friends like.
“For the first time my identity isn’t just defined by Facebook, but by what’s happening all around the Web,” said Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, kicking off the company’s f8 developer conference here.
One early adopter, the popular IMDB movie database site, has added the Like button to every film it lists, giving visitors the option of clicking on their favorite movies and updating his or her profile to display their likes. The product and service recommendation site Yelp is another early adopter.
Zuckerberg said the Open Graph push will make the Web more social, and he expects rapid adoption.
“Within the first 24 hours, we expect over a billion Like buttons across the Web,” Zuckerberg said.
Users have long been able to post ‘likes’ and comments to their Facebook page, with the activities streamed to friends similarly to Twitter updates. But Zuckerberg said the Open Graph goes well beyond streaming.
“You can post to a stream,” he said. “But streaming is ephemeral. Within a few hours, it floats away and users don’t always understand the connections” to what’s in a stream.
Zuckerberg said Facebook tapped three key partners — Microsoft (an investor in Facebook) along with Yelp and the music sharing site Pandora — to build new applications using Facebook’s new platform. He said Microsoft is rolling out Docs.com in beta, a social Web site that lets Facebook friends share Office documents online.
“With the online version, you can share and collaborate online … write a document online and share it with friends who can comment on it,” Zuckerberg said.
Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) has been moving to bring its applications online, specifically in the next version, Office 10, which is due out next month. While Microsoft dominates the market for office productivity applications, it’s faced growing competition from companies like Google, whose Apps suite is designed to run on the Web and can be easily accessed from any Web-connected computer.
“The scope and scale of what Facebook is doing is massive,” Greg Sterling, an analyst with SearchEngineLand, told InternetNews.com. “They are seeking to remove all the barriers and logins that users and developers have had to go through to share information across the whole Internet.
“In the early days, America Online was a walled garden. Here Facebook is taking the opposite approach of taking their massive footprint and extending the social graph they created to third parties,” he added.
Facebook supporter Levi’s said it believes the new social plug-ins “will change the way people shop online — and make buying jeans online more fun.”
Levi’s said shoppers at Levis.com will be able to “Like” products such as jeans and see which ones are their friend’s favorites as well. “No more wondering what others think about a fashion style or trend — feedback from friends is available next to the product,” Levis said in a statement.
During a Q&A session following the keynote, Zuckerberg and other Facebook executives faced a number of questions about how the Open Graph affects privacy — a perennial bugbear for the social networking giant. But the company downplayed any security or privacy implications of the new protocol.
“Nothing with social plugins changes any privacy settings,” said Elliot Schrage, Facebook’s vice president of communications and public policy. “If people are happy with their settings, today’s announcements provide new opportunities for users and developers.”
Facebook has had to change and evolve its privacy policies and requirements a number of times in the wake of spam outbreaks and user complaints that too much information was being shared without their knowledge.