Did Like Just Replace The Link?

It’s pretty interesting to see all the people rallying around an open “Like” standard. It was just like the developers who suggested we needed an open tweeting platform once Twitter became so successful. In turn identi.ca was born and most people don’t use it. Every great idea launched on the web is now immediately followed by a bunch of open web advocates claiming that the “locked in” model is scary. The drive behind the movement may not hold any bearing but it appears to be in response to a fundamental shift away from links to likes.

The Open Argument

The best way to explain why the “Like” system is so important is to first explain the basis of the existing web and search engines. Right now, Google uses hyperlinks as the standard for determining the relevance of websites and pages throughout the internet. The more links to a given page, the more important it becomes. Right now however, posting links is still an overly complex process as it requires understanding what “<a href='URL'>this text is important</a>” means.

It also requires understanding how properly formatted HTML will significantly help your search rankings. The entire search optimization industry is built on the premise that the internet is not easy to build on top of. Despite the challenges of understanding how to optimize your site for search engines, the existing search industry is fundamentally based on the “open web”. It’s open in the sense that and search engine can crawl across websites and find the links that are on those pages. As changes are made, the search engines need to reindex those sites.

In Facebook’s new system however, the information is not available for anybody to access. As Alex Iskold accurately states, “The missing bit is that Facebook appears to be the only repository of data in this equation – and that makes the whole offering seriously closed.” Every person (who is also a Facebook user) that visits a site can instantly “like” an article and it doesn’t require knowing how to code a hyperlink in HTML.

Reduction Of Friction Means More Data

In addition to simplifying the process for the majority of users who visit a site (not necessarily easier for publishers, in that a link is still easy for most publishers) to state that a piece of content is a good one, Facebook has also forced publishers to include more structured data about content. While Google can still crawl the RDFa-formatted metadata that publishers must now include, Facebook is locking everybody else out from accessing the massive amount of “Like” data.

While Facebook has effectively reduced the friction for information flowing into their system, they’ve also blocked out the other major players from accessing this data (Google, Yahoo, etc). The act is of course in Facebook’s own interest and despite the protest among the new group of “OpenLike” supporters, it’s likely that this model will work for Facebook. If all goes well, we may find out that the “Like” has in fact become an effective replacement to the modern link.