Facebook – the new social infrastructure of the web

The internet has been awash with talk of Facebook’s new Open Graph protocol and their “social plugins” – effectively being able to embed the Facebook “like” button into your own pages. This means you can get your webpage content directly onto Facebook – into the newstream, onto profile pages and within search results. And let’s be clear, this is massive.

Your brand no longer needs a Facebook Fan Page – existing brand “objects” can appear directly in Facebook’s newsfeed with just a couple of html tags. IMDB has already started using it to allow you to “like” individual movies, as have the NHL, where you can now “like” each and every individual NHL hockey player. It integrates directly with what you’re already doing. Facebook is no longer just a social network application; it’s just become part of the web’s infrastructure.

Facebook’s new feature, coupled with Facebook Connect and improvements to it’s API, means that you will be building applications on top of Facebook, not within it. Facebook just because THE social layer of the web’s infrastructure. Just as many of the most interesting uses of Google Maps will not be found on a google URL, they’ll be thousands of new ways people will think up of using this new infrastructure to create exciting and brilliant new social apps, games and sites that are built on top of – but not inside of – Facebook.

There’s no better illustration of this than Levi’s new “Friends Store” – the Levi’s online shop, with the Like button embedded underneath every product. The below video explains the concept. Look at how they refer to it – very little actual mention of Facebook, just the fact that your shopping just got social.

Welcome to the new social infrastructure – brands using “Like” not to link people to Facebook, but to create social links between people. Facebook isn’t the end product, it’s the infrastructure through which social elements are delivered. Shop online and see what your friends like. Buy the pair of jeans that you know the coolest kid in school likes. Apply it to a site like Just Giving, and give to the same charities that your friends support. It’s a visible, programmable, usable illustration of The Herd in action. The scope is huge, which means a lot of brands are going to be using it, and that could be a problem.

With this new social plugin, in the future hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of sites will be reliant on Facebook. Without it, a whole host of social functionality in these sites will just stop working. Imagine what we would do as marketers if email suddenly stopped working. Facebook is now in the same position. This gives Facebook incredible power, which raises some interesting issues in terms of responsibility.

Personally, I think it’s an exciting opportunity for brands to begin to embed social elements into their everyday digital work. It brings social thinking to the centre, and hopefully discourages brands from thinking of social media as something that can compartmentalised and put to one side. However, there does have to be concerns that this is more power than one single company should really have. What if Facebook crashes? Or suddenly wants to charge you to access its API? Is it right that one supplier should have such power over the market? And should brands and marketers care?