Facebook’s relentlessly-hyped, celebrity-studded f8 developer conference is starting to rival Apple’s developer conferences for its ability to shape the Internet zeitgeist. This year’s event brought the boldest proclamation yet of Zuckerberg's Law — a Moore’s Law of sorts for the social media generation. Loosely stated, it means that the amount of content that can be shared online doubles roughly every 12 months. If you shared 50 things this year, you’ll share 100 things next year. The best part about this exponential growth in shared content, from Mark Zuckerberg’s perspective, is that Facebook is now finally positioned to profit from all the sharing and “like”-ing that’s going on across the Web. (Full disclosure: The Washington Post Co.’s chairman and chief executive, Donald E. Graham, is a member of Facebook’s board of directors.)
To borrow a metaphor from the original California Gold Rush - Facebook is now in the position to distribute the picks and shovels — or ”apps” — that enable companies to mine personal profiles for Web gold. With its newest changes, Facebook wants nothing less than to make what you listen to, read, watch and share online widely available to your friends online. This overhaul in the Facebook personal profile — when it gets rolled out to hundreds of millions of users at one time this week — has the ability to impact how we use the Web and how companies are able to monetize our personal information.
At stake is the answer to this question: Can any company finally connect our online selves and our offline selves? The biggest of the changes announced was the creation of the Facebook Timeline, which should roll out to all users by the end of this week. What once were ephemera in your life — the breathless updates about the things you buy, watch or listen — have become a very real way to define who you are to others. You are also able to go in and backdate your life. Do you still have your baby photos from 30 years ago? Fantastic, add them to your Timeline. To make this possible, Facebook has partnered with the world's leading video, music, news, travel, and food organizations — including Netflix, Hulu, Spotify, Ticketmaster and The Washington Post.
At a time when people already set up very carefully curated profiles of how they want to be perceived by others, they now have a new tool to make that a reality. In many ways, the new curated Facebook Timeline is reminiscent of Intel's Museum of Me experiment, which offered a dramatic, curated view of a user’s presence across Facebook in the form of a museum exhibit. The better you are able to curate your life, the more influence you will have, and the more you will be rewarded by companies with things to sell to you. Your influence will be directly linked now to how many photos you share, how many news stories you share, and how many songs you share with friends.
Understandably, Facebook's approach is not without its critics. The company has always been a lightning rod for privacy advocates, who fear that Facebook has too much control over what others know about you (either knowingly or unknowingly). Do you really want your friends, acquaintances and family to know every detail of your life? And, with over 4 billion things shared each year, is there ever a point of over-sharing?
At the end of the day, we have always been defined in large part by the people we spend time with and our patterns of consumption. Facebook now wants to make that explicit rather than implicit. Facebook and Google have very different views on how we should be using the Web, with Facebook’s approach more closely resembling the way the real world works. Haven’t a nod of approval from a trusted acquaintance and a generous word of mouth approval always been the best way for a product or service to hit the viral jackpot?
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