Facebook's latest offerings allow users to see what their friends like as the pals shop, read the news, and listen to music online -- all information you can use.
On Wednesday, Facebook launched its bid to unseat Google for Internet domination, hoping to topple Google from its perch at the heart of a user's web experience.
The good news: The series of products the world's largest social network unveiled can help you grow your brand. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg said at a news conference later Wednesday that there were no plans, however, to add advertising to the new plug-ins, and that the firm was doing just fine with the advertising it has. But as Facebook features multiply across the Web, the site will strengthen its hold on its more than 400 million users – and add new ones. (Thinking about advertising on Facebook? Click here.)
The products – revealed at Facebook's annual f8 developer conference in San Francisco – will make it easier for users to take their friends along for the ride as they surf the web.
The key product is a "Like" button that partner sites put on their web page. This allows users to show their friends (and the world) the pictures, news, or products they – you guessed it – like on a web site. The company expects to serve 1 billion "Likes" in 24 hours.
Facebook will squirrel away those details the way it already stores connections between people. At the same time, any website – yours, perhaps – will be able to mine those individual preferences and use them to tailor a more "personalized online experience" for the user and their friends. (Of course, all of this can only happen when users are logged into Facebook – and not surprisingly, now it's easier than ever to make any page on the Internet at Facebook page. For an explanation of how to do that, click here.)
What's so great about all that?
"When someone 'likes' your page, that is a valuable action because it means you will be able to publish updates directly to them in the future which could be used for a variety of purposes like promoting traffic to your website or advertising anything you want," Justin Smith, founder of InsideFacebook.com, told the BBC.
Consider this example from Levi's, who – along with CNN, ESPN, and the Washington Post – is among the first to sport the "like" button. The clothing brand will use the "like" function in its e-commerce site plus build a "friend" store where customers logged into Facebook can see a list of their friends' favorite products and shop online with them. (To see the "Like" button in action, click here.)
"This technology will help brands grow their Facebook connections rapidly by turning visitors to their Web sites into viral engines," Mike Lazerow, CEO of social marketing company Buddy Media, told the San Francisco Chronicle.
Blogged Jeremiah Owyang, an Internet analyst with the Altimeter Group: "Facebook wants to be the starting point for your world — the new e-mail inbox. If they turn on advanced search tools, this can threaten Google.com... All this social aggregated content will yield a powerful database of what you and your friends like, the precursor to customized Web experiences and social advertising."
The new features immediately raised questions about privacy – something about which Facebook has already attracted considerable heat. Zuckerberg said users would continue to be able to choose which information would be publicly shared. (For an explanation of how to set your own privacy settings to opt out of sharing, click here.)
Inc. contributing editor COURTNEY RUBIN was for five years a London-based staff writer for People magazine. Rubin, a former senior writer for Washingtonian magazine, has written for the New York Times magazine, Time, Marie Claire, and other publications. She is the author of The Weight-Loss Diaries.