Zuckerberg’s Keynote at f8 Facebook Developer Conference

by Christoph Menge in Entrepreneurship

Mark Zuckerberg’s short keynote at f8 (it’s being repeated there, just head over!) was quite interesting. In general, I’m not really surprised because the vision of facebook has always been to give an identity to people and to minimize the overhead that is needed to get in touch. The announcements that have been made today are basically just the logical next steps. The implications on both the product development and on the technical side are quite far-reaching, however, because there will indeed be a massive reduction in friction and the overhead for developing facebook apps is just minimal. Most importantly: the semantic web is coming. Now.


Facebook offers a kind of generic currency – facebook credits. This is still in closed beta, but according to Mark Zuckerberg, you can already get in touch with them to get signed up. Again, this makes developing a payment-enabled web application much easier. And it probably will make a huge lot of money for facebook.

Open Graph API

In short, there’s a new API called »Open Graph«. Apparently, this API is much more simple that the old facebook API which is why I believe this will be a very powerful system. It will also save me from doing a long research which of the .NET facebook API wrappers is best – they are all obsolete as of now. Facebook promises that you won’t need to change your API calls in the future though. In the past, there have been quite a number of revisions of the API, often with breaking changes. The new API promises to be a lot more simple, but I have quite a set of questions in the back of my head as of now.

This simple API is also the web-wide return of the IFRAME. And here is my like button, with the evil color scheme (which looks just the like the normal?):

Note that this won’t show anything useful if you don’t have a facebook cookie set, which is quite annoying I believe.

If you want to have the your own web-wide “Like” button, here you go:

<iframe src="http://www.facebook.com/plugins/like.php?href=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.example.com"></iframe>

That’s it. Fin. The official cooperation partners has the like button yet. You can find the new facebook like button documentation on their platform, which will also generate above code for you.

Due to the fact that this is an IFRAME, the hosting site of the IFRAME really doesn’t get any information about you, which might be interesting in case you don’t really trust the site. However, facebook will know you visited that site – kind of a problem for those pages you don’t really trust.

Most importantly, however, the Open Graph is a very strong move towards the semantic web. Instead of storing lots of free-form information, facebook’s open graph will allow to store semantically enriched information. You can see the new facebook like button also on pages such as imdb.com and if you “like” a movie there, it will pop up in your facebook profile – under the movies section! This is not just a gimmick.

This will be one of the most fundamental developments we have seen in the Internet. It’s easy to say that because Tim Berners-Lee predicted it. Facebook brought together some really important players and they will massively grow that semantic graph. Therefore, facebook’s content and ad-targeting will soon outperform anything we’ve ever seen on the net. Amazon suggestions? Google AdWords? Forget it!

To use a not-so-good example (see comments): “Golf”. If you google for “Golf”, Google has no idea what you mean. The sport? The car? Or one of the other uses of the word “Golf”? That’s why Google is keen on storing some additional information, especially your search history. If you have searched “stableford” before, you’re likely to be looking for the sport “Golf”. But the thing is: Facebook will be able to know even if you haven’t explicitly searched anything before, in case you (or your friends) are fans of the sport on facebook (or perhaps of a Volkswagen fanclub…).

What’s left in that puzzle, of course, is user behaviour: Do users really want this? Will they actually “like” everything around the world’s webpages? I guess so – after all, you’re not giving away anything it seems. You can interact with others, make a (small) statement and above all, be kept up-to-date through web hooks. So there is something to gain and little to lose for end-users – apart form getting a lot more transparent.

I’m very interested to see the full ontology they developed for Open Graph. So far, the examples shown are quite simple:

<meta property="og:type" content="band" />
<meta property="og:title" content="Green Day" />
<meta property="og:genre" content="Punk" />
<meta property="og:city" content="Berkeley" />

Open Graph API Call Examples

These examples have been presented by Head of Platform Products Bret Taylor at f8 – you can check them out just by clicking, of course:

For example, when you call the first one, you’ll receive some basic information about Bret Taylor:

   "id": "220439",
   "name": "Bret Taylor",
   "first_name": "Bret",
   "last_name": "Taylor",
   "link": "http://www.facebook.com/btaylor"

You will need an authentication token for some of these, however. Speaking of authentication: facebook will move to OAUTH 2.0 in the future!

Web Hooks

“Don’t call us, we call you”: facebook will allow you to register Web Hooks. That will enable you ‘get a call’ from facebook every time certain information changes, so this allows you to synchronize with information as soon as they are updated in facebook by some user and vice versa. This is very interesting, but I’m very interested to see what limitations we will be seeing with this – I can think of several ways to abuse this.

Really Open?

The main question here is whether this graph is really open. As Zuck said, you can “write back information into facebook’s open graph”. Well. So the information goes back to facebook – this is quite beneficial for facebook, of course. On the other hand, facebook changed their policy so you’re no longer required to “forget” all user information after 24 hours. You’re now allowed to persist that information if the user allows you to do so.

One of the things that really trouble me, however, is that this will have facebook aggregate a LOT more information about you. Suppose you visited some site that you don’t want to share with your friends and that you really wouldn’t want to tell anyone about — facebook already knows it.

As of today, quite a number of projects that use facebook’s new technology are going to launch, among them Docs.com – an interesting product by Microsoft that let’s you share your office documents with your friends. Docs.com Apparently, Microsoft’s investment in facebook includes some large-scale co-operations.

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  1. d says:

    great article. but what is the “golf” region?

  2. d, thanks for the comment!

    My bad – in English it’s “Gulf” region. Since the German words for “Gulf” and “Golf” are both “Golf”, it’s a good example in German but obviously not in English :( Well, another thing facebook would know, right? I removed the region, but now the example isn’t too convincing. Any suggestions for ambiguous words? Wikipedia suggests “Mercury” as a particularly ambiguous word.

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