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Using Facebook’s Open Graph and Social Plug-ins

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  • August 17th, 2010 by Leslie Wiser

    Using Facebook’s Open Graph and Social Plug-ins

    A popular topic in meetings lately is the rapidly increasing role Facebook is coming to play in helping people find your site and the experience they have once they arrive. Many of our clients have noticed the rapid spread of the familiar “Like” button to third-party sites all over the web. However many are confused about what this – and other recent changes – really mean in terms of their overall online strategy.

    A Little Background

    Facebook launched Facebook Connect back in late 2008. This now familiar feature allowed for users to login to other people’s sites with their existing Facebook account. Since then, Facebook has continued to evolve its APIs (application programming interfaces) to introduce additional ways websites are able to integrate Facebook’s social networking capabilities.

    Then, at April 2010’s F8 Developer Conference in San Francisco, Facebook unveiled a powerful new addition: the Open Graph API. This new API seeks to extend the social nature of web applications to a whole new level by giving websites the ability to leverage Facebook’s social graph of over 500 million users with a few simple adjustments to their markup. Essentially, the API can turn a third-party website into a Facebook app or page. According to Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s co-founder and CEO, the API will make the web more inclined towards social networking.

    How the API Works

    The API gives every “object” (profile, album, photo, event, link, etc) on Facebook a unique identifier, and that identifier can then be used to fetch the data associated with that object. While this may sound complicated and confusing to those outside the industry, the important thing to understand is that it potentially allows for visitors to essentially “bring” their personal network of Facebook friends with them to your website.

    Web Developers can tap into this API in a wide variety of ways to create custom applications and functionality.  For example, retail giant Amazon has been generating lots of buzz with the launch of a new application that allows shoppers to receive personalized product recommendations based on their Facebook activity. These recommendations are influenced by content they have “liked” as well as the Facebook activity of his or her friends.

    The Social Plug-ins

    The launch of the Open Graph API coincided with the launch of several new Facebook plug-ins. These plug-ins enable developers to add specific Facebook functionality to third-party websites in a less complicated manner then programming that interfaces directly with the Open Graph API. Some of the plug-ins associated with the new API are:

    The “activity stream” plug-in, which allows users to view updates from the websites they like;
    The “recommendations” plug-in, which suggests content to users based on their profile information;
    The “social bar” plug-in, which creates a toolbar that can be used to embed Facebook Chat in a website; and
    The “login” plug-in, which allows users to log in to a website using their Facebook credentials – much like Facebook Connect does – but also lets the user know which of his friends have already joined the website.

    The advantages that can be realized from these new developments are obvious. The “Like” button has the potential to bring many new visitors to any website that uses it, since any user who clicks on it effectively notifies all his friends that he likes the website.

    The pace in which this seemingly simple “Like” button has spread is phenomenal. More than 50,000 websites added it within the first week of its launch.

    It is very likely that Facebook will add advertising and/or other such moneymaking features to the Open Graph API some time in the future. But even if that happens, this API and the new social plug-ins are too powerful to ignore. It opens up an exciting new dimension of the web, with many gains for both website owners and users.


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