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July 13, 2010 / Joe Osborne

Coffee Talk: Likes, Not Links!

Welcome to Geekadelphia’s weekly discussion column, Coffee Talk, where we talk about the finer topics concerning video games, technology and all the other things you can’t talk about with your slightly-less-geeky friends. Have questions or suggestions? Send an email to geekadelphia@gmail.com or tweet with us. Follow me on Twitter if you’d like to keep this week’s discussion alive.

Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of social internet juggernaut Facebook, recently announced their updated approach to the web, Open Graph a little over a week ago. To avoid getting bogged down in the web jargon, this is essentially means that Zuckerberg wants Facebook and its user information to be accessible outside of the original website. Does this mean that users’ information will be visible from wherever without consent (you might want to find that tin foil)?

Well, sort of. Profiles will still have the option to be private, but if they wish to share their experiences of the internet outside of Facebook, Zuckerberg’s Open Graph policy will require them to be logged in and be public. How will this work exactly and what will it mean for the future of the web? Since we know you’re just itching to find out, we put it right behind that link down there. See you on the other side.

Warning: This is not a button!

The primary method Facebook will use is the “Like” button. You’ve probably seen it on your favorite sites and blog posts. That is, if you clicked past your RSS feed to notice (who does that anymore?). Much similar to established services like Digg and StumbleUpon, clicking the Like button will automatically share the fact that you read this piece of content and enjoyed it for whatever reason.

Beyond posting it to your wall, “Liking” something will contribute to a greater collection of information based on what you browse while logged in to your Facebook account. Using this information, Facebook could contribute to an organically social web where simply clicking a button while browsing will share your interests and network content better than ever. Not to mention this information might be beneficial to content publishers looking for more tangible metrics with which to rate their offerings (before you ask, we’ve already seen my thoughts on Facebook’s approach to privacy).

It’s alright, we’re all jealous of the guy (Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg)

Instead of sharing clunky links and explaining why you’re sharing, the Like button does both quickly and simply. Speaking of which, Likes share a striking similarity with traditional hyperlinks. They have the ability to provide a direct portal to information on the web. When you post a link, you’re essentially sharing that information and giving the end user the place to find it.

However, links have a fundamental flaw: the connection they have to the greater web is tracked by what websites post that information, not individuals. Sure, tracking links is totally possible, but it takes work. Likes, on the other hand, naturally post that information in reference to a specific user. This makes for a metric that directly displays the people behind the numbers not to mention a tangible network for users.

This raises a few potential “what if’s”. What if this whole Like business takes off? Since Google cannot track Likes as well as it does links, will Facebook become the new standard to which websites aspire to? What if users don’t want their every move on the internet tracked (while logged in on Facebook) for the benefit of publishers and advertisers? This could polarize Facebook’s user base. Or it could mean nothing as one could assume a large majority of Facebook users are unaware of the Open Graph anyway. Perhaps a public service announcement is in order.

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