Facebook's New "Like" Button And The Anonymized "Like" Stream

Last night’s story from the Financial Times about a behavioral ad network being powered by Facebook’s new Like button turned out to be completely false and the article was quickly changed to reveal nothing new. However with all the discussion around Facebook’s new “Like” button and speculation about its implications, we’ve come to our own conclusions about what will make Facebook’s new “Like” button a huge deal and spark a second developer gold rush.

It’s Not The Same As “Sharing”

Facebook’s share button is a great service which enables website owners to attract viral distribution through Facebook by prompting users to share content. It’s a great system, however there is still a multi-click process, and as any developer who’s handled web optimization knows: one click is better than two. Right now Facebook has a service called share analytics which enables developers to track how many times an article has been shared. It’s a great tool, and while a number of developers have already integrated the service into their products, an ecosystem of aggregators has not proliferated.

The problem is that developers need to input individual URLs in order to find out how many times an article or website has been shared and that requires a pre-existing database of URLs. In essence, it’s too complicated to develop robust aggregation services built on top of the existing system.

Protecting Privacy While Providing More Data

In Facebook’s battle with Twitter, privacy has surprisingly proven to be a weakness for the company. Every step the company has taken to make more user data available to developers is met with a significant amount of backlash. In addition to all but forcing users to make more information available, Facebook has received criticism for recent privacy policy changes among other things. While the users don’t want to make their data publicly available, developers thrive off data. So to avoid the whole privacy issue all together, Facebook is preparing to introduce the “Like” button which enables users to vote for content they like.

Twitter’s Retweet Ecosystem

Twitter has given rise to a massive ecosystem of aggregators all of which are powered by a single action: retweeting. This action enables aggregators to determine what content is popular at the moment and combined with profile data among other things, can actually enable basic filtering features. Sites like Tweetmeme have surfaced to let people know “what’s hot” on Twitter at any given moment. There are now numerous analytics companies that also track retweet data to determine who network influencers are in addition to providing other interesting data sets.

The Public Stream Of “Liking”

With the massive amounts of data available to developers, Twitter has successfully built a large developer ecosystem. However depite Facebook’s integration of many Twitter-like features into their existing products, none have fended off the “Twitter threat”. So what would really do the trick? I believe that a public stream of “likes” from users will provide developers with a massive dataset to build any aggregator they’re interested in.

Not only that, but Facebook can provide anonymized user data at the same time. For example: you will be able to find out that an article about a new XBox game was shared primarily among male users aged 18-25. You may also be able to collect other interesting data points all collected from a user’s profile including geographic data, language, relationship status, education, and more. This would also provide a legitimate rationale behind Facebook’s recent privacy changes which will enable Facebook to share your data with other websites without you logging in to them.

The bottom line is that this new system could be massive and developers would flock in droves to build applications based on this new data set. Facebook’s expanded analytics package that could be released at this week’s f8 would also be able to provide instant insight into the type of users visiting a company’s site. Talk about priceless. Facebook will instantly spark a new advertising revolution in which previous requirements of cookie-tracking is completely unnecessary: website owners will instantly know their site traffic’s demographics.

The Like Revolution

While there will be other important features that empower developers and website owners, Facebook’s new announcements on Wednesday will most likely spark a second Facebook-powered gold rush. This time it will be built on the world’s largest anonymized data set. This system would also be in line with all the previous rumors we’ve heard about the public stream firehose, the new privacy policy, the google analytics competitor, and more. Combine this public stream with other rumored announcements for f8 and it appears as though this week’s developer event could be as big as the first f8 hosted three years ago.

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