Facebook quietly launched a Like button browser extension for Chrome a couple months ago, TechCrunch has discovered today. The extension appears as a button to the right of the search and address box in the Chrome interface, and as an option in the right-click menu. As one might expect, it lets you like any web page, share content and your commentary back to Facebook, and see the number of other Facebook users who have liked a post.
Interestingly, it appears to have been released around when Google+ launched in late June, possibly in reaction to hints that Google had their own +1 button extension coming. Google did — but the product only just launched this week.
Maybe Facebook is planning a big push of the plugin at f8 or something? But the lack of promotion that the company has given the plugin suggests that it was a side project or test done by an individual or small team of engineers. As of now, the extension has 555 users.
It seems to work well enough from a user perspective, but could use a bit more polish. For example, if you Like one page, then use hotkey commands to go to other open tabs, the popout description of the Like will remain overlaying the browser.
The overall aim of this sort of feature is to get more users sharing more information through Facebook, and so make its site more valuable to developers and advertisers. It could also give Facebook additional data about its users.
As TechCrunch notes, some users have been concerned about these types of extensions sharing browsing activity and other sensitive information back to the parent company. If you use Facebook’s extension while you’re logged in to Facebook, the company says it will see the URL, your IP address, and when you visited the site. Both companies disclose what data their extensions access in their Chrome Web Store extension descriptions, so users should decide if they’re willing to share browsing activity in exchange for using the product. If it makes leery users feel any better, Facebook and Google both have a wide range of other ways to track users online identities and behaviors, as do countless other web companies.
Facebook has experimented with various types of persistent web interfaces over the years, notably browser toolbars and a navigation toolbar tested for a while in 2008 that appeared above any page that users had clicked to from inside the site. Some web companies, like StumbleUpon, have successfully used persistent browser add-ons to drive usage. Facebook has more often emphasized other ways of making its services effective beyond its home site, like Connect and Graph API-based products such as the Like button. Perhaps its ongoing interest in browser technology and development will result in more features like this extension.