SAN FRANCISCO — With about half of Facebook’s 400 million users checking in daily, the social networking company has established itself as one of the Web’s most popular destinations.
Matthew Staver/Bloomberg News
Mark Zuckerberg is the chief executive of Facebook.
Now Facebook is intensifying its efforts to expand its empire beyond its Web site; the company wants to turn scores of sites across the Internet into satellites where users will be able to interact with their Facebook friends.
Details of Facebook’s plans — which involve a variation on its “Share” button, already prevalent on many sites — are expected to be introduced by Mark Zuckerberg, the company’s chief executive, on Wednesday during its conference here for third-party developers. But even before Facebook makes its plans public, its aim to become a social networking force across the Web is facing competition.
On Monday, a coalition of other companies, including some Facebook rivals like Google and MySpace, are banding together to establish a new standard for Web sites to allow visitors to share information, not just with Facebook but also with dozens of other social networking sites. The coalition is led by Meebo, a company that offers a toolbar featured at the bottom of many Web sites that visitors can use to share articles, photos and other links with a variety of social networking services.
In the meantime, Twitter is also looking to expand its presence across the Web with its @anywhere service, which will allow people to log in to Twitter from other Web sites.
The moves by Facebook and its rivals set up a battle for control over social interactions across the Internet.
“There is definitely a multiround fight that is going to be happening here,” said Jeremiah Owyang, a partner at the Altimeter Group, a digital strategy consulting firm.
Analysts say Facebook’s desire to spread its tentacles across the Web could run into privacy hurdles, as it will require the company to share increasing amounts of personal information about its users with other sites.
“They are going to have to secure more consumers’ approval for data-sharing,” said Augie Ray, an analyst at Forrester Research.
Facebook’s strategy, in some ways, follows an approach taken by Google nearly a decade ago. The Internet search engine, after establishing itself as a destination for Internet queries, began syndicating its search box, and later its advertising system, across the Web through toolbars and partnerships. As Facebook becomes an ever more important source of traffic to other Web sites, the two companies’ rivalry is certain to sharpen.
Facebook declined to comment on its coming announcements. But people familiar with Facebook’s plans say the company will introduce a series of products and technologies to deepen its presence across the Web.
For instance, Facebook will introduce a universal “Like” button that Web publishers will be able to put on their pages. Similar to the Facebook “Share” buttons that are already popular with many Web sites, the “Like” buttons will make it easier for Web publishers to offer more social experiences, in essence allowing Facebook friends to enjoy those sites together.
While “Share” buttons allow users to post links that their friends see on their Facebook pages, those links are fleeting. The Like button will allow Facebook to keep a record of what a user linked to, providing the company with ever more data about people’s preferences. Facebook, in turn, plans to share that data with Web publishers, so that a magazine Web site, for instance, may be able to show users all the articles that their friends like. A site like Yelp may show reviews from a user’s friends, rather than those from strangers.
Facebook is also planning to offer a toolbar that Web sites will be encouraged to place at the bottom of their pages. The toolbar will build on Facebook Connect, a service the company introduced in 2008, allowing people to use their Facebook identities to log into various sites. The toolbar will be easier for publishers to use and may encourage more users to log in. Facebook engineers were still working on the feature, and it was not clear if it would be introduced at the conference.
But Facebook’s toolbar is likely to collide with the efforts of Meebo, whose own toolbar has gained growing acceptance. It allows users to log in to Web sites with their identities from many social services, chat with friends from those services and select pieces of content from a site, like a photo, to share with those friends. The new alliance will establish standards that will allow Meebo, and other similar services, to know easily what networks a user belongs to and give them an option to sign in with their identities from those networks.
“We’ll know which networks and which buttons to put in front of you,” said Seth Sternberg, chief executive of Meebo. Meebo and its allies, which include Microsoft and Yahoo, plan to hand over the technology to a nonprofit group that will oversee its development.
Chris Messina, open Web advocate at Google, said Twitter and Facebook were leading the way among social sites. But he added, “It is far too soon to write the last chapter in digital identity.”