12. December 2011–
There’s no denying Facebook’s global impact on social media. The networking giant has 800 million users to its name, more than 2.5 times the population of the United States. It has revolutionised the way we communicate and connect across all levels, and is used by anyone for anything; politicians, celebrities, news organisations, musicians, educational systems, charities, businesses, young children, grandparents, and the list goes on.
Whenever Facebook’s functions and features get tweaked or upgraded, it gets talked about on a viral scale. With the enormity of its user base, it’s inevitable. So when Facebook announced its ‘Open Graph Protocol’ we spoke exclusively to one of the company’s engineers: Simon Cross, to put Facebook’s upcoming plans into simpleton terms: “It’s the ultimate way of mapping the real world with Facebook,” he says.
Open Graph explained
So what is it exactly? Think of it as a bigger, more inclusive extension of the ‘like’ button. It enables users to integrate their activity on Web pages with their Facebook profile news feed. “It helps you share whatever you do,” says Cross, “we’ve always been about ‘who you are’, and so it’s about putting your real identity on the web.”
The Open Graph is designed for Web pages representing ‘real-world things’ like restaurants, music, sport teams, and movies. If a page has Open Graph tags, it makes it equivalent to a Facebook page. Say for example, you upload an app that tracks where you take your morning jogs; how fast you run and how long you run for. With your permission, the information gets posted to your Facebook feed.
What’s the point? You may ask. “It’s all about real world connections, and ‘like’ was the first generation of being able to connect to things in the real world,” says Cross; “the open graph is a natural progression of where Facebook’s at.” More importantly, budding or dwindling companies can build against the Open Graph system to direct some much-needed traffic to their site.
“The opportunity for start-ups is the greatest. It’s free, and your bigger competitors will react more slowly,” says Cross. To test its potential for start-ups, Facebook partnered up with Berlin’s Soundcloud this year to measure the concept’s possibilities. “They have huge presence on the web and globally - they’re a big deal. But they’re just a bunch of geeky guys,” he adds. In other words, anyone with the tech know-how can build against Open Graph. “If you’re a start-up, you could go home tonight, build against this, and launch it tomorrow,” says Cross.
“If you’re a music artist who recorded a gig, and shared it on Soundcloud, the integration with Facebook means that you don’t have to think about sharing it. You can upload something and immediately your fan base – or whoever you want to see it – knows about it,” says Cross.
In terms of privacy and advertising, the data from Open Graph is used to allow advertisers to target ads. It’s the same way Facebook uses data today: “it’s all the same carry-out supply, so we never give your data away to an advertiser. An advertiser can never find out about a specific person and their details,” says Cross.
Media companies have long adopted Facebook tools to engage and attract audiences and drive traffic to their sites. That’s why Facebook looked to social news apps to measure traffic levels. With Open Graph, users have the choice of installing the app and choosing the audience of who can see their activity with it. It can be shared with a select group of friends, friends of friends or the whole web. Below are some examples of Facebook’s reported statistics, since Open Graph released its beta version in late September this year:
- Yahoo News has seen a 600% increase on traffic coming in from Facebook
- The Independent has seen some unexpected activity, with many stories from the late 1990’s going viral.
- Since The Guardian built an app for Facebook, it has been installed by nearly four million people in two months, generating close to a million extra page impressions a day.
- The Washington Post has drawn in more than 3.5 million monthly users so far, since it built the Social Reader app for Facebook.
Open Graph’s opening
Facebook has gone through its run of adjustments based on feedback from launch partners and users in general. “There’s a ton of people that have built against this the Open graph and are ready to launch as soon as we pull the trigger,” says Cross. The project’s official release date hasn’t been calendared, but is expected to be out early next year.