For Facebook's next act, the social networking site will break free of its domain and let you "like" things all over the Web, according to two news reports.
The New York Times and the Financial Times tell a similar story based on unnamed sources: Facebook wants to expand beyond its core site with a "like" button that Web developers can embed in their pages. Yes, it's yet another media sharing tool in the style of Digg and Reddit -- it just happens to be aligned with the second-biggest Web site in the United States.
A Digg Killer?
A lot of sites already use a "share" button to connect with Facebook, letting users post links to their news feed, but a "like" button seems more in line with the simple interaction offered by Digg. In other words, your commitment starts and ends with a simple thumbs up. It also could allow interaction with non-editorial sites, as the New York Times suggests Yelp could use the "like" feature to show users how many of their friends enjoyed a restaurant or business.
That said, we don't yet know exactly how the concept will work. Does liking a page automatically create a news item for your Facebook friends, or is there some other way for Facebook to determine which liked stories get shared?
The rise of Twitter and Facebook have hurt Digg's popularity, but part of the site's allure is its anonymity, and sharing among random strangers. Facebook is all about interacting with your friends. Still, the sheer volume of people using Facebook could quickly cement the "like" button as the premiere way to share Web content.
Privacy Issues, Of Course
It seems like any time Facebook does anything, privacy is part of the discussion. That's likely to be the case here, as some marketers tell the Financial Times that they'll use "like" information to target ads at users. Analysts tell the New York Times that privacy concerns are possible as shares more details about users with external Web sites, though that seems like a more general issue than a specific flaw in the "like" service.
Facebook denies that it will use the service to track users across the Web, saying that it bases ads only on information users fill out in their profiles. "We have no announcements or changes planned to our ad offering and policies," a Facebook representative told the Financial Times.
More "Like" in More Places
Back on Facebook.com, "like" will be implemented in advertisements, replacing the "become a fan" functionality for brands, says the Financial Times. It's not clear what this means for the messages and news postings you get in exchange for brand fandom. Again, liking something seems more casual than becoming a fan, so I'm a bit skeptical that one feature is completely replacing the other. We'll see what happens at F8, Facebook's conference on Wednesday where it's expected to announce the new features.