The problem with Facebook Like
The problem with Facebook Like is that it breaks Activity Streams and instead tries be the sole provider of social context.
Currently, activity updates are tightly bound to the service in which they were created. In order to share with others, the choices are blunt – annoy all your Facebook friends with game updates, annoy all your twitter followers with 4square checkins. By giving activity streams a standard vocabulary and metadata, applications will gain the capability to create more refined – and contexually relevant – posting choices and reading filters.
But that’s what Facebook’s “Like” gets rid of. See, there’s an alternative vision about social context. And that is that Facebook is your one and only source of context. Thomas Vanderwal suggests, in the discussion of Facebook’s recent announcement, that Facebook is not doing such a great job of this today: “The social graph is dangerous without context and much more dangerous w/ partial context.” ActivityStreams fosters competition among services that want to provide social context of various sorts, and Like forecloses that competition.
Elias Bizannes does the technical analysis to support this conclusion in an excellent post on the Data Portability project blog which analyzes the open-ness of Facebook’s Open Graph Protocol. Bizannes writes that:
the proposed page header metadata “a play to increase the quantity of semantic data on the web and then capture social gestures (aka “Likes”) made against those concrete semantic objects – think a web-wide recommendation engine. This is a big step forward for Tim Berners-Lee’s vision of the semantic web.
Currently, however, these gestures are submitted to FB’s proprietary database using proprietary API calls. This was not the most open way to execute on this functionality. Instead, these gestures could be written out to a site-specific Activity Stream that can then be indexed by any web-crawler.
There is a simple way for Facebook to remedy this situation, which is to support the Activity Streams standard for like updates. In this way, Facebook could compete to actually be the superior provider of social context – it has a major opportunity here – without closing off competition to other sites, tools and services.
If Facebook doesn’t do this, the challenge for those who’ll benefit from competition is to make it very easy to support standard activity streams – and then use that data to actually do a better job than Facebook at supporting the social desires of users