No longer just a popular social networking, Facebook's new mission is to become the underlying social engine powering the entire Internet.
That's what became exceedingly apparent yesterday during CEO Mark Zuckerberg's keynote speech at the company's F8 developers conference. There, he outlined Facebook's new Open Graph initiative, which spells out this grand effort.
The upshot of Open Graph is this: Just as the British Empire in the 1700's wanted to "make the world England," Facebook aims to "make the Internet Facebook." Facebook intends to take all the features users enjoy on Facebook - the like button, comments, friending, news feeds, etc. - and apply them to other websites, indeed the Internet at large.
Facebook already has trained more than 400 million users in how these functions work within the Facebook confines. Applying them to the broader Internet holds significant implications for the music industry. For instance, it's no secret that music recommendation and discovery is considered the greatest digital music opportunity. More music is being created that ever before, and the digital music services that can best introduce users to the new music best suited for them in the most seamless way possible will benefit not only the music service, but the artists and labels trying desperately to reach new fans.
Facebook's Open Graph initiative could conceivably create an Internet where digital music services will know each user's musical preferences the minute they navigate to their site, and automatically cue up the playlists, recommendations and music geared toward them without going through today's painful process of "teaching" the service to recognize their tastes.
That's because Open Graph is designed to track those tastes on every other site users are on. With Open Graph, Site A learns from the activity on Site B. That's what's missing today on the Internet and that's what Open Graph is trying to provide. If successful (and admittedly it's a big if) it will be a huge deal that fundamentally alters the way the Internet works. And in the process, it could make Facebook bigger than Google.
Facebook tends to be overlooked as a vehicle for music because it doesn't offer its own music service or store. The attention goes to Apple, or MySpace Music. Every move Apple makes is followed ridiculously close at the expense of other developments. The iPad launch for instance was a huge media event, but only a handful of the geekiest tech outlets followed the Facebook news. But Facebook's Open Graph is by far bigger news than the iPad.
Open Graph makes every participating digital music service a Facebook music service. It allows Rhapsody, and Napster and even iTunes to gain the social layer they've been sorely missing all these years.
The music industry too often tends to sit back and watch new developments like this unfold before jumping in. Cautious labels like to see which way the wind blows before dedicating already scarce resources to every new tech fad that emerges. It's understandable. It's also wrong.
Every element of the music industry with any sort of online presence at all needs to participate in Open Graph, and needs to do it now. If the lessons of P2P distribution taught us anything, it's that online social interactions have incredible power; industry-changing power. The music industry wasn't ready to embrace the potential of P2P distribution when Napster first hit the scene, and it's still feeling the sting. Times have changed. Hopefully, they've changed enough to allow faster movement on this opportunity.
Plugged/Unplugged is an online digital and mobile column by Billboard correspondent Antony Bruno