This afternoon while walking around the OnMedia conference in New York City, I got into a conversation with the founder of a company that is looking to extend their service through Facebook Connect. Without getting into the details of the individual product, the main service they’d like to add is the ability to add Connect support to their fourth party widget.
As I’ve highlighted on numerous occasions, Facebook has yet to completely clarify what their fourth party policy is making it challenging for many companies looking to build a business that leverages Facebook Connect. Personally, I think much of the reason behind a less clarified fourth party widget policy is that Facebook has yet to determine how they truly want to implement Facebook Connect.
The Emphasis Is On Structured Data
Last month I wrote about Facebook’s custom tags and ultimately I think this was the beginning of something much bigger. Currently, numerous applications on the platform publish stories about user actions and now those same stories can be extended outside of the platform via Facebook Connect. There are currently three primary incentives for developers to integrate with Facebook Connect:
- Access to social graph data
- Social distribution
- Decreased registration barrier
For Facebook the rationale for launching this service is to become an identity management service and to help extend the social features of the platform to the rest of the web. The largest incentive for Facebook Connect is to access user actions around the web which are eventually published to user news feeds. The only problem with those stories currently is that the data within them are not structured.
For example, say someone purchased a book on Amazon.com. While Amazon.com may consider publishing a story which says that they purchased a book, Facebook wouldn’t have a simple way of interpreting that information. What would be one million times more effective is if Facebook could capture that data and then use that information to improve their advertising algorithm.
How To Turn News Stories Into Money
If Facebook presented a way for news feed stories to insert structured data, the company could immediately improve their targeting algorithm. So how do they do this? First, Facebook lets developers publish news feed stories from Connect with external facing links. Rather than publishing a basic URL, Facebook should force developers to use structured tags in order to link to sites. One example would be: <fb:book isbn=’XYZ123′ title=’Think and Grow Rich’ author=’Napoleon Hill’ url=’http://www.amazon.com/think-and-grow-rich’ />.
This would pass Facebook the data that they would like and it would provide developers with the ability to drive more traffic to their site. It’s a fair exchange and it’s one that could make Facebook a lot of money. Rather than the company spending excessive resources to monitor every application that leverages Facebook Connect and then launch their own custom solutions, Facebook should simply provide a system which forced developers to provide valuable targeting data.
Honestly, Facebook is in some ways “crowd-sourcing” the design of the structured data through their custom tags service that I mentioned earlier. It’s only the beginning though and ultimately if Facebook can collect all of this information and allow developers to help define the structure of that data, the company is on the verge of developing one of the most powerful targeting networks (in my own opinion).
If you are a developer would you provide structured information to Facebook? Do you think this is a fair exchange between Facebook and developers?