Facebook's Universal Sharing Challenged by Google, Microsoft, Meebo

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2010-04-19

Facebook, which popularized the notion of shared content for its social network, is expected to unveil a "Like" button publishers can embed on their Websites to let users share content with their Facebook friends.

The New York Times reported that Facebook at its F8 developer's conference April 21 will introduce a Like button that will allow the company to keep tabs on what a user linked to. Users can click the button to share favorite Websites, which will give Facebook more info on what users are interested in.

Facebook will share that data with Web publishers, which will put in front of visitors links, photos and other content that their friends like from Facebook. If that sounds confusing, think of this Like button as one big recommendation engine for the Web.

Facebook fuels the Like button with its social graph on the back end; Website publishers are the vehicles to promote sharing for Facebook's glut of 400 million-plus users.

This effort, which follows up the Facebook Connect service to let users connect to third-party Websites with their Facebook user names and passwords, is a play to help Facebook extend its tendrils as the premier social connective tissue for the Web.

One imagines social advertising will play a major role here, but we must wait until F8 Wednesday to learn whether this is so and how Facebook envisions it will work.   

Facebook's effort is being preempted by a group of companies intent on not letting Facebook infuse the Web with its members-only approach to the social graph. Meebo April 19 launched XAuth, a platform for automating the way users share content on social networks, with partners Google, MySpace, Microsoft, Yahoo and others.

While Facebook is focused on helping its users share info within the Facebook social graph, the group supporting XAuth wants to let Website viusitors share info with Facebook and myriad other social sites.

Meebo told eWEEK that a publisher can add an XAuth sharing tool, such as the Meebo social toolbar, to their Website. That tool will detect which social networks and communications tools the user is actively using and offer users buttons that will let them post content to those sites. This is an open, cross-Website sharing tool.

Meebo's effort is also likely a reaction to the now oldish rumor that Facebook is also planning to release a Meebo-like toolbar for Websites to put at the bottom of their Web pages. This toolbar, according to the Times story, will build on Facebook Connect to help more users log in to participating Websites.

High-tech media and other Web media-savvy publications offer numerous buttons to let users launch content they like to Digg, del.icio.us, Twitter, Facebook and Google Buzz.

It isn't clear whether this has caught on among the broad consumer base outside high-tech elitist circles from Silicon Valley to Silicon Alley. Asking the average user to share their credentials and preferences from social networks with other Websites could be pushing the limits of their collective creepy meters.

Count Forrester Research analyst Augie Ray among the true believers that online sharing is where it's at.   

"Online sharing has been possible since the early days of the Internet, when services such as Prodigy and Geocities offered "Personal Web Pages," Ray told eWEEK. "We saw online sharing jump when blogging tools like Blogger and Wordpress made blogging simple. And we saw a huge leap in sharing when Facebook, Twitter and others made it drop-dead easy for people to share what they found with friends, family and peers. 

Accordingly, he believes there is a high likelihood consumers will use the Facebook and Meebo XAuth sharing tools to share information via their social networks. Ray offered a caveat: 

"However, they key to success won't be simply to drop Universal Like buttons or some other sharing mechanism on every page but instead to consider what consumers will want to share," he said.

"Brands that don't offer the content or experiences people care to share will see little benefit from implementing these sorts of sharing tools, but brands that give people a reason to share will see benefits -- and provide benefits -- in social media."

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