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One Day Soon, Facebook Will Rule The Internet

Posted by Hal Thomas on October 14, 2010


Yesterday Mashable reported a new partnership between Facebook and Microsoft's Bing search engine. Says Mashable,

"Starting today, Bing users now get an experience that’s customized using Facebook Instant Personalization. For now, that means searches (where appropriate) will feature a Facebook module that shows you what your friends have liked as it relates to that search, as well as a smarter people search results."

Why is this such a big deal?

In his book "The Facebook Effect", author David Kirkpatrick (who was given unprecedented access for more than two years to current and former Facebook employees) consistently reiterates the strong belief of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg that the Internet is better with friends. Zuckerberg holds that one of the most valuable assets a person has is their network of social connections; people typically place a higher value on the opinions and recommendations of their family, friends and other connections than they place on marketing messages.

Zuckerberg has always been interested in using Facebook to aggregate and leverage the trusted opinions of your family and friends. Imagine the benefits to both businesses and individuals if, when searching for a new Italian restaurant to try this weekend, the first search results you received were not paid-for advertisements, but real life reviews and recommendations (i.e. "Likes") from your circle of trusted social connections. Imagine further what it would be like to use the Internet for research purposes and to receive search results weighted by the relevant Likes of your friends and colleagues. Facebook and Bing's new partnership is a first step in that direction.

The vision of an Internet experience customized for every person is what Zuckerberg had in mind when he announced Facebook Open Graph and Instant Personalization at F8 back in April of this year. Since then, we have seen the proliferation of Like buttons across more than 2 million Internet sites.

One of the most recent and noteworthy examples of Open Graph integration into a website is the Instant Personalization features now present on Visitors to the site can see movies that their friends have recently watched and read their friends' movie reviews. Imagine what your Amazon or Barnes & Noble shopping experiences will be like when the first product reviews you see are the ones written by your friends. I predict we'll see this on at least one major retailer's website inside of twelve months.

One Point of Critcism

In order for Facebook to realize its grand vision of an Internet experience personalized for every user, they still have one very big hurdle to overcome. At a fundamental level, Facebook has not adequately addressed the question of how to define more than one type of relationship. In Facebook world, everyone falls into simple black and white categories, Friend or Not Friend. By contrast, relationships in the real world are far more complex. We have family, friends, co-workers, acquaintances, social media contacts—the list goes on and on—and each type of relationship carries with it varying degrees of connectedness.

In reality, there are a lot of people with whom I am acquainted who add something of value to my life, but I would rather not share the minutia of my personal life with them. For example, I can think of 40–50 people I follow on Twitter because they work in my industry. Over time I have come to respect their opinions. In the context of a personalized Internet, I would benefit from having some sort of connection to my "influencers" via Facebook. (Imagine being able to Google/Bing the term "management" and see a list of related articles Liked by Seth Godin.) However, as much as I value my influencers, I could really care less about seeing pictures of them taking their kids to the zoo. In this regard, Twitter still has the edge on Facebook.

Facebook's failure to allow for more than one type of relationship is why its announcement last week about the redesigned Groups feature fell flat for me. I was hoping that the new Groups might address the fundamental differences in various types of relationships, but alas it did not. At the end of the day Groups are really just Friend Lists applied to conversations instead of people. And ironically, Zuckerberg began the presentation by stating that Facebook's own research found that people don't like to make lists. I'm not sure managing the new Groups is really going to be that much different than managing lists.

Ultimately I share Facebook's vision of a personalized Internet—I'm drinking the Kool-Aid on that one. It's a grand vision and one that if realized could fundamentally change the way we use the Internet in very practical ways. But in order for this to gain any sort of widespread traction, Facebook is going to have to acknowledge that on the New Internet you and I will have more robust experiences if we can connect to the people we define as experts and influencers without having to share every personal detail with them (and vice versa). Oh, and having Facebook/Bing/Google define the experts for us is not an acceptable option.

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