Faster Forward: Facebook spins a wider web -- including on this site

By Rob Pegoraro
Wednesday, April 21, 2010; 3:37 PM

Facebook launched a set of initiatives that will expand its reach across and into numerous third-party sites, The Post's included.

You can see one result of this on our home page and other pages here, the "Network News" box. On my computer, its "Friends' Activity" heading shows that fellow Posties Sara Goo and Nancy Trejos, among others, shared links to recent Post stories on Facebook, after which a link I posted to the editor's note explaining this feature appeared in that box almost instantly. Meanwhile, the box's "Most Popular" listing (pictured at right) revealed that 3,887 people pointed to today's obituary for civil-rights leader Dorothy I. Height.

In another browser, in which I'm not logged into Facebook, The Post's home page doesn't show what stories friends like and lists only the most popular stories overall.

Want to regulate your visibility through this feature? A notice on the main Network News page breezily says, "You can change what information you share on Network News by changing your privacy settings on Facebook." But it doesn't identify which corner of the social network's complicated settings you should check.

(As far as I can tell, you'd want to make sure "Posts by Me" are visible to "Only Friends" to stop strangers from seeing your Facebook mug shot on our site -- and to avoid broadcasting your data to random people on Facebook itself. If you don't want even Facebook friends to see what Post stories you liked on Facebook, you shouldn't share them in the first place -- which should be obvious but may not be.)

The Post's vice president and general manager for digital operations, Goli Sheikholeslami, said that the company -- remember, chairman and chief executive Donald E. Graham is on Facebook's board of directors -- began work on this feature in December. She said that while "people not comfortable with this kind of activity will be able to manage that and not make their information public," she expected that "most people will take advantage of it."

The Palo Alto, Calif., social network's other announcements at a developers' conference today -- see liveblogs from Mashable and TechCrunch for more details -- add other ways for third-party sites to link back to Facebook.

For instance, at the movie database, you can click a "Like" button to praise a flick on Facebook, below which a running total reports how many Facebookers liked the movie (86 gave a thumbs-up to "Avatar," just four to "Office Space").

And Facebook is formally launching its new Platform initiative -- the experiment in sharing some Facebook user data with third-party sites without your advance permission that I critiqued here last month and in my column a few weeks ago.

(If you're curious: No, nobody told me about The Post's upcoming Facebook integration before I wrote that story; no, I didn't get any funny looks from management types after that column ran; yes, our public-relations staff was anxious to get me to write about today's news.)

Facebook's launching this with just three sites: Microsoft's invitation-only Docs, a Web version of its upcoming Office 2010 suite; the Web-radio hub Pandora; and the business-listings site Yelp. But I'm a little fuzzy on how that's supposed to work; Pandora didn't welcome me with friends' music picks and Yelp doesn't point me to Facebook pals' latest write-ups (unless, somehow, none of my Facebook acquaintances use Yelp). I'll have to check back at those sites later today.

On a blog post, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg tries to put all these moves in context:

"Today ... we are making it so all websites can work together to build a more comprehensive map of connections and create better, more social experiences for everyone."

It's not going too far to say that Facebook ultimately wants to build a layer of identity and authentication on top of the entire Web. That may be helpful in some cases; for instance, I'd like to know which Yelp reviews come from the people I know and trust at Facebook. But I don't need it at every site, and you probably don't either. So where do you draw that line?

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