Monday, May 24, 2010

Facebook: "Likes" will replace "Links"

It's so cute, isn't it? :-) The little button to the right of this blog...that teeny tiny little 'like' button that makes you want to say "Awww! You are so CUTE! I just wanna take you home and squeeze you and love you and kiss you and push you until you like me back!" (Flashback to Elmira from Animaniacs, Gen-Xers)

Of course I'm exaggerating, and of course your feelings for the like button are not that deep; they are more akin to Sarah Palin - nice woman but a few bricks short of a henhouse. But you gotta admit, it is kind of cute (The like button, not Sarah...focus people!). You wanna push the button. Just so that you can join the others that all say that they like something, anything that validates our collective existences, right??

There's a lot more to Facebook's little like button than meets the eye. I watched Mark Zuckerberg's presentation at Facebook's F8 convention on the new Open Social Graph, and his plans to make the web a more social and connected society can indeed come to fruition, especially since he's got help from heavy hitters in the industry such as Microsoft and others.

Now that Facebook has over 400 million users (more than the U.S. Population, at least prior to results of the 2010 census), it wields a great deal of influence over the web. Sure, Google is the place to seek information, but when you're looking for a really good movie, aren't you going to also want to ask your friends, who have actually seen that movie? Or better yet...what if you went to the Iron Man II website, and actually saw right there that your friends like that movie? Wouldn't that give you a little more rationale for going to see the movie?

Facebook's boldest web strategy yet centers around this little like button, and the implications of it are as far reaching as Google's original strategy to organize the world's information online. I must admit that this is the first time in my life that I have been both excited and worried about a new online technology. In a nutshell, the reasons are these:
  1. The button gives ordinary people with little or no knowledge of web development the ability to rank and organize the web according to its usefulness (Yay! Excited)
  2. Businesses have a new social tool that allows them to gain popularity very quickly, as well as learn more about their user's interests (Yay! Excited)
  3. However, Facebook now has a method for collecting immeasurable quantities of data on each user its social networking platform, no matter where they go online (Um, worried)
I'll explain each a little more in detail.

1. Ordinary web users can now rank and organize the web.

In the early days of Search Engines, it was recognized by web developers like us that one of the best ways to help our clients show up on Google, Yahoo etc. was to call up other businesses in their communities and ask them to place a hyperlink ( on their website to our clients. The concept, openly divulged by Google, was that the more high-quality links placed on other websites that point to a client's website, the higher it will rank with respect to its peers in the same category in its search engine.

I must tell you, it was and still is a tedious process. Calling the right people, asking them to place a link on their websites, and often walking them through the process of adding that link takes an enormous amount of time. No complaints, but there had to be a simpler way...

Enter Facebook.

Now, simply by finding and clicking the little like button on any website , you or anyone can instantly make any web page more popular, simply by clicking 'like'. In the short term, this will not do much except raise the number of people that like a given page. But over time, Facebook and partners will be collecting that data, and my hypothesis is that they will be creating a new 'social search engine' that ranks websites according to their popularity from the average user.

This also means that as a business owner, you can more easily spearhead a web campaign to get followers simply by having the like button placed on all your web pages, generating just a little online buzz, and letting it steamroll from there. If the content you are trying to get liked is of good quality, then the buzz will spread, and more and more people will be inclined to push the like button. The content will spread on its own.

But that's not all...

2. Businesses can use this data to find out what appeals to consumers.

Now fast forward a few months after putting some content out there on your website. You have 205 people that like your article on spaghetti, and 12 that like your article about wanting to do some oil-surfing in Louisiana (best example I could come up with). Using that data, you can get a clearer picture of what is wanted and needed by your target audience.

Additionally, you can get a much more accurate picture of who your audience is. If those 205 people that like your article on spaghetti happen to be people who like gourmet cooking, then you as a business owner can refine your future content to attract more of that demographic. In essence, the like button is a very powerful tool for focusing a business' marketing efforts in a more effective manner.

But, there is a price to pay...

3. Guess where all that data goes?

Here's where it gets tricky. In order to create Zuckerberg's vision of a social web, somebody's gotta retain, centralize, and crunch all that data. You can be certain it's not going to be Xerox.

I'd like to pose a hypothetical situation. Let's say your 10-year old kid goes through a phase of finding a lot of, well...controversial stuff on the Internet. And on each site he finds, he clicks on the like button, to let his online friends know that he is interested in this material.

A few websites may not hurt...but over the course of months or years, Facebook could theoretically collect this data, and offer it as marketing data to their 3rd party companies. Even at this point it may still be innocuous, but the point is that now the data has left its home base. And the fact that this information is out there for use by various companies could - in the long run - have as damaging an effect as a bad credit report. In short, it could be very harmful to click on various likes across the web without taking a moment to think about what we are placing our stamp of approval upon.


Facebook's vision of a Social Web is a grandiose one. However I think that it is entirely plausible. Social Tools such as the like button will give ordinary users the ability to give their votes of approval on any content that exists on the web. Within a few short years, the like button will hold as much power as a link from one website to another. It has already begun.

Businesses will be able to capitalize on these new features, beginning simply by having them installed on their websites, and finding what works best for their target audiences. If you would like assistance with adding these social tools to your websites, call Rockland Web Design at (845) 271 - 4488. Most plugins can be added within an hour's time, so it is a fairly simple and straight-forward process for most client sites.

But just as much as we advocate the usefulness of the Facebook Social Plugins, we subsequently argue that consumers will need to be educated on them as much, or possibly more than businesses. I think the greatest danger is to future generations that randomly surf websites and like, like, like, all day long. There needs to be some sort of safeguard, to protect them from being stereotyped as an advocate or purveyor of damaging, harmful or offensive information.

I for one will be researching Facebook's new social plugins, especially the like button, very intricately. I see enormous potential for these tools, especially for businesses, but as mentioned above I do believe that the general public needs to be educated on how to use them properly.

Speaking as a single man without any kids, I am looking ahead and imagining that I will need to make the time to consistently teach my future children (God willing) that they need to make intelligent choices when going online for any reason, and much like Stephen Covey's explanation in the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, let them know that there is a space between stimulus ("wow this is a cool website!") and response ("I'm going to click on the like button") that gives them the freedom to make the right choices. And that choice can be as small as pointing a mouse toward the like button.

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