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Originally published Sunday, April 18, 2010 at 9:01 PM

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Big battle brews over control of Web social interaction

With about half of Facebook's 400 million users checking in daily, the social-networking company has established itself as one of ...

The New York Times

SAN FRANCISCO — With about half of Facebook's 400 million users checking in daily, the social-networking company is one of the Web's most popular destinations. Now it's seeking to turn scores of other Internet sites into satellites where users can interact with their Facebook friends.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is expected to give details of the plan — which involves a variation on its "Share" button already on many sites — at a San Francisco conference for third-party developers Wednesday. But even before Facebook makes its plans public, it will face competition.

On Monday, companies, including some Facebook rivals like Google and MySpace, will band together to establish a new standard for Web sites to allow visitors to share information, not just with Facebook but also with dozens of other social-networking sites.

The coalition is led by Meebo, a company that offers a toolbar on many sites that visitors can use to share articles, photos and other links with social-networking services.

Meanwhile, Twitter is also looking to expand its presence across the Web with its (AT) anywhere service, which will allow people to log in to Twitter from other sites.

Taken together, the moves set up a battle for control over Internet social interactions.

"There is definitely a multiround fight that is going to be happening here," said Jeremiah Owyang, a partner at the Altimeter Group, a digital strategy consulting firm.

Analysts say Facebook's desire to spread across the Web could run into privacy hurdles, as it will require the company to share increasing amounts of personal information about its users with other sites.

"They are going to have to secure more consumers' approval for data-sharing," said Augie Ray, an analyst at Forrester Research.

Facebook's strategy, in some ways, is similar to what Google did nearly a decade ago. The Internet search engine began syndicating its search box, and later its advertising system, across the Web through toolbars and partnerships.

As Facebook becomes an ever more important source of traffic to other Web sites, the two companies' rivalry is certain to sharpen.

Facebook declined to comment. But people familiar with its plans say the company will introduce products and technologies to deepen its presence across the Web.


For instance, Facebook will introduce a universal "Like" button that Web publishers will be able to put on their pages. Similar to the Facebook "Share" button, it will make it easier for Web publishers to offer more social experiences, in essence allowing Facebook friends to enjoy those sites together.

While "Share" buttons allow users to post links that their friends see on their Facebook pages, those links are fleeting. The Like button will allow Facebook to keep a record of what a user linked to, providing the company with ever more data about people's preferences.

Facebook, in turn, plans to share that data with Web publishers, so that a magazine Web site, for instance, may be able to show users all the articles their friends like. A site like Yelp may show reviews from a user's friends, rather than those from strangers.

Facebook also plans to offer a toolbar for Web sites to use at the bottom of their pages. It will build on Facebook Connect, a service introduced in 2008, allowing people to use their Facebook identities to log into various sites.

But Facebook's toolbar is likely to collide with the efforts of Meebo, whose own toolbar has gained growing acceptance. It allows users to log in to sites with their identities from many social services, chat with friends from those services and select pieces of content from a site, like a photo, to share with those friends.

The new alliance will establish standards that will allow Meebo, and similar services, to know easily what networks users belong to and give them an option to sign in with their identities from those networks.

"We'll know which networks and which buttons to put in front of you," said Meebo CEO Seth Sternberg. Meebo and its allies, which include Microsoft and Yahoo, plan to hand over the technology to a nonprofit group that will oversee its development.

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