In the beginning--which was February 2004--Facebook was nothing fancy. Mark Zuckerberg hacked together a website that let his Harvard classmates share basic facts about themselves with friends. They found his creation addictive. So did other Ivy League students. So do the more than 800 million active members who have since joined, making Facebook by far the planet's largest social network.
Of course, the Facebook of 2011 bears scant resemblance to the one Zuck whipped up less than eight years ago. It's not just that it incorporates everything from photos to games to video calls to local shopping. Thanks to features such as the Like button, more than 7 million other sites and applications are now part of its ecosystem, making it tough to tell where Facebook ends and the rest of the Web--and life in general--begins.
At the company's F8 conference in September, Zuckerberg revealed new features designed to further blur the distinction between living life and using Facebook. The service is ditching its venerable Profile, for instance, in favor of a prettier, more expansive version called the Timeline, which summarizes your entire history on Facebook back to the day you joined--or earlier, if you choose to upload your baby pictures.
The Timeline will be filled, in part, by information deposited there by the Open Graph, a major revamping of the technology that lets sites and apps hook into Facebook. No longer will you need to approve every instance of sharing, like when a game wants to publish your high score. Instead, sites can get your permission once and then push all your actions onto Facebook as they happen. Among the first Open Graph apps are the music service Spotify and a news reader from the Washington Post. Other activities that can benefit from the technology, Zuckerberg said, include movie watching, book reading, bicycling and cooking. Oh, and sleeping.
This emphasis on sheer volume of data is no shocker. Zuck once noted that the amount of sharing by a Facebook user roughly doubles each year. This became known as Zuckerberg's Law, and it's as much a mission statement as an observation. The company wants members to feed more and more information about themselves into the machine; it leads to people's staying on the site longer and, although this isn't a point Facebook stresses, permits it to target advertising more precisely.
But by putting sharing on autopilot, Facebook runs the risk of becoming less useful and engaging. Clicking a Like button isn't exactly a sophisticated act of critical judgment, but at least it says something about your tastes. Some people fret that the Open Graph will result in unintentional sharing of information that members don't want public. But it seems at least as likely that the data dumps may simply prove boring. Already, users are grumbling about the Ticker, a new feature that indiscriminately displays updates like every song your friends have listened to on Spotify. So much trivia whizzes by that it's simultaneously distracting and tedious.