April 22, 2010, 10:07 AM — I couldn't sleep this morning, so I schlepped down to the nearest Wifi cafe. To escape the execrable soft jazz playing in my local beanery I plugged in my noise-canceling ear phones and dialed up Pandora. Before I'd even logged in, the site launched into one of my favorite Tom Waits songs, "Jockey Full of Bourbon," followed by songs from John Lee Hooker and Tift Merritt. Bang bang bang, three of my top artists, just like that.
Coincidence? Nope. Pandora pulled my musical preferences from my public Facebook profile. I didn't ask it to. It just did. It was both cool and just the tiniest bit creepy.
Welcome to the Facebook-powered Web. By accident, I'd stumbled onto the very thing I'd planned to blog about this morning: Facebook's "Like" button program -- what in hopelessly geeky fashion they call the "Open Graph API" -- and what it means for you and me.
In case you missed it: Facebook has just introduced a button that lets you tell the world the things you like, even when you're not on Facebook. Visit CNN or Mashable or Technologizer, click the "Like" button, and that information is posted to your Facebook page. (Though CNN's button is still labeled "Recommend" -- maybe they didn't get the memo.) Meanwhile, if your Facebook friends also like what you like, you can find that out too, again without ever visiting Facebook.
For example, I created a new Pandora station based on the music of Outkast. Pandora helpfully informed me that one of my Facebook contacts, All About Windows blogger Mary Jo Foley, also was a fan of Outkast. (Gee Mary Jo, I never knew you rolled like that.) I've spoken to Mary Jo once or twice in my life on the phone, but I'd be surprised if she could pick me out of a police lineup, even with that tilty sepia-toned portrait at the top of my ITworld page. Yet I now know she gets down to Andre 3000, even if I'm not sure I really wanted to.
And this is part of what bugs me about "Like." My Facebook friends roster is full of people I barely know. Yeah, I get it, that's not what it's supposed to be about, blah blah blah. But when you work in a semi-public position in tech/media, as I do, you get a lot of Facebook friend requests. It's hard to turn down someone who's just given you an hour of their time, for free, so you could make a deadline. (Full disclosure: I'm also guilty of a little Facebook profile trolling myself.)
Facebook is taking the notion of "friends" more literally than most of its users do, I suspect. That leads to a Too Much Information problem, which its new "Like" program will only exacerbate.
Make no mistake, this is a power grab. Facebook is making a play to become the single-sign-on and social-sharing engine for every major site on the Net. Call it the FaceWeb.
What I keep thinking is that corporations spend tens of millions of dollars trying to figure out what consumers like. Facebook is getting this information for free. What will it do with this data, down the road when everyone is used to reflexively hitting Like? If you believe they aren't thinking about the buckets of money they can make from this in years to come, you are living in a dream world, my friend.
Of course this is no vast conspiracy to steal your data. You can opt out, though Facebook has yet to unveil granular controls that let you choose which "Likes" to share and which to keep to yourself. But you know most people will accept the default settings without thinking twice. (My advice? Think twice.)
Do you like "Like"? If so, I'd tell you to click the button at the bottom of this blog, but there isn't one (yet).
Maybe I'm too much of a cynic, but I want to know where the Dislike button is. I'd learn a lot more about people that way, I think. I'd settle for an 'Indifferent' button, though. That captures how I feel about most Web content.
When not listening to Pandora or complaining about Facebook, Dan Tynan tends his snark garden at eSarcasm, the site for geeks who "Like" sophomoric humor.