If you want to sell a proprietary technology for financial gain or to increase user adoption for eventual financial gain once a model is monetized, the hot new thing is to call it “open” and ascribe intellectual property rights to insignificant portions of the technology to a “foundation. The most recent case in point that has flown across my radar is Facebook’s OpenGraph, a new ‘standard’ the company is putting forward to replace their existing Facebook Connect technology, a system by which third-parties could integrate a limited number of Facebook features into their own sites, including authentication and “Wall”-like communication on self-developed pages and content. The impetus for Facebook to create such a system is rather straightforward: If it joins other players in the third-party authentication product-space, such as Microsoft’s Windows Live ID, Tricipher’s myOneLogin, or the OpenID, it can minimally drive your traffic to its site for authentication, where it requires you to register for an account and log in. These behemoths have much more grand visions though, for there’s a lot more in your wallet than your money: your identity is priceless.
Facebook and other social networking players make a majority of their operating income from targeted advertising, and displaying ads to you during or subsequent to the login process are just the beginning. Knowing where you came from as you end up at their doorstep to authenticate lets them build a profile of your work, your interests, or your questionable pursuits based on the what comes through a browser “referrer header”, a response most modern web browsers announce to pages that tell them “I came to your site through a link on site X”. But, much more than that, these identity integration frameworks often require rich information that describe the content of the site you were at, or even metadata that site collected about you that further identifies or profiles you, as part of the transaction to bring you to the third-party authentication page. This information is critical to building value in a targeted marketing platform, which is all Facebook really is, with a few shellacs of paint and Mafia Wars added for good measure to keep users around, and viewing more ads.
Now, wait for it… what about this new OpenGraph scheme? Using this scheme, Facebook can not only know where you are and what you’re looking at, but they know who you are, and the meaning behind what you’re looking at, through their proprietary markup combined with OpenID’s Immediate Mode, triggered through AJAX technology. Combined with the rich transfer of metadata through JSON, detailing specific fields that describe content, not just a URL reference, now instead of knowing what they could only know a few years ago, such as “A guy in Dallas is viewing http://www.example.com/Page.html”, they know “Sean McElroy is at 32°46′58″N 96°48′14″W, and he’s looking at a page about ‘How to Find a New Job at a Competitor’, which was created by CareerBuilder”. That information has to be useful to someone, right?
I used to think, “Hrm, I was sharing pictures and status updates back in 2001, what’s so special about Facebook?”, and now I know. Be aware of social networking technology; it’s a great way to connect to friends and network with colleagues, but with it, you end up with a lot more ‘friends’ watching you than you knew you ever had.