If you happen to be paying attention to anything other than your friends list, you might have noticed a trend. Facebook is popping up all over the place. No longer is it just a social networking site that a few college kids use to post frat party pics. People from all walks of life, all ages, all backgrounds, and even all countries are logging in to update their statuses and post pictures of their dogs.
It could be considered an epidemic, even a pandemic, but even that would be OK if Facebook stayed in its place, on Facebook.com. Instead, you would be hard-pressed to visit a site that does not either link to its Facebook profile, have a “like” button, or even have pictures of all of the Facebook people who like it. Our web server experts at 34SP.com observed that websites can use the “like” button for both legitimate and also deceptive marketing promotion.
With Facebook apps connecting nearly all websites back to itself, “like” buttons even for things no sane person should like, and even a development platform, FBML (Facebook Markup Language), we may be experiencing a hostile takeover. And that presents a problem.
At the end of the day, Facebook is still a for-profit company attempting to make as much money as possible. We have already seen plenty of concerns raised about Facebook privacy, advertising ploys, and security issues. What will happen now that Facebook has inserted itself into millions of websites across the web? What would happen if Facebook controlled the Internet?
At the moment, Facebook appears to be rather friendly with website owners, app developers, and “the little guy”, but there is no way to guarantee that arrangement will hold. If the Facebook executives have a change of heart or if someone buys the company, its advertising strategy and marketing tactics could change dramatically. Then, you are faced with a situation where, no only do millions of people have their personal information on Facebook, but millions of sites also have their content integrated with the social networking giant.
Even beyond the privacy issues and concerns about marketing exploitation, there are technical problems with the Facebook phenomenon. There are times when websites load slowly, solely because the Facebook widget is taking too long to load. With Facebook become more increasingly integrated with sites, there is a danger in becoming reliant on the stability and sustainability of Facebook’s code. Since Facebook is not an open source project, and its platform is not an open web standard, Facebook can do whatever it wants with it, even abandon it completely, leaving website owners scrambling to restore order.
Another issue of concern is content ownership. At one point, there was an uproar when Facebook updated its terms of service to include a clause that made all of your content the property of Facebook forever, even if you canceled your account. Although the terms appear to not to be so harsh now, after users protested against it, users still have to face the reality that Facebook has rights to their content. For businesses, writers, photographers, and other professionals who use social media to share their creations, this presents a very risky situation, where Facebook could conceivably use any content posted or shared on it for its own commercial gain.
The point of mentioning all of this is not to scare you into abandoning Facebook and other forms of social media. They have a reasonably sound place on the web and have certainly benefited the growth and spread of useful web technology. But with any commercial service, users should be aware of their rights and of the limitations of the platform they intend to use. The web was designed to be free and open, and we as web users should make every effort to ensure it stays that way. The Facebooks of the world should not control the web, but rather they should work with the web and for the benefit of its users.