Inflection Point of the Social Web

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Sweaty, exhausted, the lacrosse team huddles together at half time. They are losing 0-4 and the mood of the home-team crowd in the stands has already quieted to reflect the impending defeat.

The whistle blows to start the second half, and they win the face-off. The play they’ve devised is crazy, but it works: four seconds into the second half, they score their first goal. The fans go wild. The team’s heats beat with a renewed determination. They go back to win the game, 5-4.

An inflection point is the point on any graph where the curvature changes. Its the mathematical equivalent of the pivotal goal that turns the momentum of a sports game around. Melodramatic sports metaphors aside, I think the social web might have just hit an inflection point. And oddly, Facebook – the walled garden of the social web – is the one who might have just given it to us.

I just had a chance to scan the F8 announcements from the other day, but two important bits stuck out at me as both surprising and exciting:

First, the Open Graph protocol. Facebook has created a standard for embedding social links within the HTML of a web page. What is important isn’t the protocol itself – many people have made similar attempts. What is important is that Facebook, the 1000lb gorilla in the room, is putting their weight behind one, and it appears to be one that plays nicely with the vision of linked data that so many in the research community share.

Second, Facebook appears to be removing their policy that prevents data export. Perviously, third parties were only allowed to retain your data for twenty-four hours. This created the ultimate dependence relationship on Facebook: make any social application you want, but you will forever be dependent on the Facebook API to make it work. Now, if I’m hearing Zuckerberg’s keynote correctly, Facebook will allow third-party services to import your Facebook data into their own databases. There may be a catch – I haven’t read the TOS yet – but if there isn’t, this is a big deal because it bulldozes an enormous hole through Facebook’s walled garden.

I think Facebook may have assessed their adoption numbers and trajectory and decided that user lock-in is no longer important because of the sheer momentum they have behind their social platform. So they can now relax their lock-in policies and aim their sites on web-wide service integration.

What are your reactions to Facebook’s announcement?