Facebook to expand with ‘social plug-ins’

Facebook has launched a major initiative to extend its influence with “social plug-ins” that embed its social networking service more deeply inside third-party websites.

The plug-ins are part of an “Open Graph” strategy announced on Wednesday by Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive, at Facebook’s f8 developer conference in San Francisco. Open Graph is an evolution of Social Graph and Facebook Connect, and extends to the web at large.

Mr Zuckerberg said the web existed today as a series of largely unstructured links between pages, but the initiative would put people at the centre of the web and provide personally meaningful connections between people and things.

Open Graph was the most transformative thing Facebook had done for the web, he said.

“We’re building towards a web where the default is social – every application and product will be designed from the ground up to use [people’s] real identity and friends.”

Facebook’s power play is likely to be welcomed by website owners and developers but regarded warily by rivals such as Twitter and Google, which launched its Buzz social networking service this year.

With more than 400m Facebook members, plug-ins offer to drive substantial traffic to sites that install them and boost their advertising revenues. Mr Zuckerberg said Facebook itself would not place ads inside the features.

The largest social network said it was launching Open Graph with 30 partners spanning categories from books and movies to celebrities and athletes. CNN’s news site and the ESPN sport site are to embed plug-ins.

Facebook users visiting the sites can click a “Like” button on stories they want to share with friends and can see pop-up windows showing friends who also like something. They can also see their friends’ activity on the site and share comments through other plug-ins.

“Liking” a movie on IMDB would make that movie appear in the user’s interests in their Facebook profile, with a link back to the film website.

“We think over the next few years that the connections between people and the things they care about will play as big a part as hyperlinks do today in defining people’s internet experiences,” said Bret Taylor, head of Facebook platform products.

Open Graph will replace Facebook Connect, which allowed users to log into other websites using their Facebook credentials.

Mr Zuckerberg told a news conference he was eliminating the Facebook Connect brand.

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