Facebook unveils big changes

By David Goldman, staff writer


NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Facebook unveiled a host of changes at its f8 developers conference that are already ruffling some users' feathers.

Many of the changes take advantage of big revisions that Facebook made to its privacy settings in late March. Those changes opened the door to allow select third-party Web sites the ability to access and store some users' personal information. (See correction below)

Those sites can use that information to show what a user's Facebook friends have been doing on their sites. CNN, IMDB.com and ESPN.com are among the first sites signing up to use the technology. So if you're a Facebook user reading CNN.com, you'll be able to see what all your Facebook friends are looking at, view recommended stories and see which friends liked which stories.

Users will be able to share more of the outside Web with their social network.

"This is the most transformative thing we've ever done for the Web," said Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg in his keynote address Wednesday. "These new technologies will help create instantly social and personalized experiences on the Web."

But even before the announcement, critics expressed concern about the privacy implications of such a service. A similar program called Beacon, unveiled in 2007, caused such a stir among users that the company canned it last year.

Some experts say Facebook learned from its mistakes with Beacon, but it still needs to frame the argument better to get its customers on board. Instead of waiting until Wednesday, Facebook somewhat covertly made the proposed change to its privacy policy late last month and opened it up for public comment.

"It's not a surprise that the feedback has been quite negative so far," said Augie Ray, social networking analyst for Forrester Research. "Facebook needs to start framing these issues in ways that make the benefits to consumers clear. They're being much more transparent, but there's still a lot of room for improvement."

Despite some pushback from users, the move is part of a big effort from Facebook to continue to grow beyond facebook.com.

"It's evident that Facebook wishes to expand its reach," said Ray. "Facebook has created a very effective and valuable destination site that eats up enormous amounts of users' time, but for the most part, users have to go to facebook.com to get that value."

Big changes

Universal "like" button: One of the major new items that users will see is a "like" button displayed on Web sites outside of Facebook. The social network will collect that data to better understand and map its users preferences.

The "like" button on Facebook broadcasts what photos, comments or posts a user likes. Facebook announced Wednesday that "like" buttons will start to show up across the Internet, enabling users to share items with friends even when they're not physically on facebook.com.

For instance, liking "The Godfather" on IMDB.com will put that movie in a user's movie interests section of their Facebook page. Liking a baseball player on ESPN.com will put up-to-date information about that player in a user's news feed.

To compliment the universal "like" button, Facebook has changed its internal "Become a Fan" button to "like" as well.

Facebook also will provide a Facebook "social bar" tool that third-party Web sites can display at the bottom of a page, which will let users access some Facebook features without leaving the site, including chat, and activity streams. Similarly, Facebook said third-party Web sites will soon be able to host a number of Facebook features on their sites.

New profiles, new pages: Facebook is changing users' profile pages so that the "pages" section will no longer appear in a separate section on the bottom of the "info" page. Those pages will be brought up to the "interests" section.

Users will be asked to convert their interests into fan pages: Is one of your interests "The Beatles?" Well, now you can become a fan of The Beatles in a single click. By default, users will receive notifications from their fan pages in their news feed.

Facebook also added new privacy settings that allow a user to control who sees all of those connections.

Community pages: So what about interests like "hiking," "napping" or "cooking," which don't have Facebook pages? Now they do.

Facebook unveiled about 6.5 million "community pages" this week, which take the "fan page" concept and apply them to ideas, locations or interests.

Currently, community pages are pretty rudimentary. A user can see posts from friends related to that topic as well as what the overall public is saying about it. There is also a link to a Wikipedia article on the subject. Users can't yet add any content to these pages, but that ability will come soon.

Real-time search: Also among the biggest announcements is real-time search on third-party search sites, similar to Twitter's service. Facebook announced that users' public posts will be available for search on sites like Google and Bing.

"It remains to be seen how consumers would adopt real-time search of Facebook feeds," said Ray. "It's a different kind of search from Google and Twitter -- would you want to search on Google to see what your friends say?"

Correction: An earlier version of this story failed to state when the privacy changes were made. They were made on March 26. To top of page

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