Is Facebook Becoming the Web’s Editor in Chief?

Looking to further cement publishers' dependency on its tools and services, Facebook has announced a series of updates to its analytics tool—Facebook Insights for Websites—which is designed to help sites become more social.

Essentially, the social media giant is looking to help publishers figure out what content is proving popular at a given moment, based on what users are liking, commenting on and sharing using Facebook’s suite of social plug-in tools (for instance, the increasingly ubiquitous "like" button).

The new analytics offering will provide sites with up-to-the-minute data on such metrics as most popular pages, where traffic is coming from and the demographic makeup of specific sections of a site. Using that data, which Facebook says it can now provide in real time, publishers can theoretically tweak headlines, adjust content, or even ditch articles or subjects altogether. 

“We hope the real-time reporting and additional granularity help you quickly identify opportunities to highlight engaging content,” wrote Alex Himel, a software engineer at Facebook in a blog post.

There are plenty of analytics services on the Web designed to help editors figure out what is working and what isn’t, including Google Analytics and chartbeat. Companies like The Huffington Post have also invested in their own proprietary tools for gauging the popularity of content.

But at 500 million registered users and counting, Facebook’s reach is unparalleled. Plus, users going out of their way to "like" or comment on content could be construed as more powerful and valuable to publishers than a user simply clicking on a story link.

That dynamic theoretically provides Facebook with an enormous sway over what gets consumed on the Internet. Facebook Connect is already becoming the default user-registration option for hundreds of sites. Just last week Facebook announced that it was exporting its branded comments tool designed for third-party Web sites, which is fast becoming commonplace.