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Facebook makes it easier for users to share the Web with friends

April 21, 2010 |  1:38 pm

In a move that will intensify competition with Internet search giant Google Inc., Facebook Inc. unveiled a series of new features on Wednesday designed to turn the Web into a place that connects people, not pages.

With more than 400 million users, Facebook is already one of the Web’s most popular destinations. Now it’s aiming to spread its digital empire by making it easier for users to take their friends with them as they browse the rest of the Web.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, clad in jeans and a black hoodie, took the stage Wednesday at a convention hall in San Francisco before 1,500 software developers who build applications on the Facebook site, which has become its own multibillion-dollar economy. He made the case that the Web was at a turning point at which more people were navigating using their real identity and bringing along their friends. They would be guided on that journey not by a search engine stringing together static pages but by their connections and interests, he said.

While signed into Facebook, users will be able to see their friends' comments about a news story on CNN.com or their favorite artists on Pandora. Any website will be able instantly to tailor itself to a visitor’s friends and interests by installing a “like” button that lets users share news, music, movies or other content with their friends on and off Facebook.

The idea is for Facebook to deliver a more personalized experience on Facebook and elsewhere, Zuckerberg said.

“We are building toward a Web where the default is social,” he said.

The new features may raise the hackles of users who expect their relationships and interactions on Facebook to be mostly private, unlike on other services, such as Twitter Inc., which is designed to broadcast information. Zuckerberg said users will continue to be able to choose which information will be publicly shared. But analysts, pointing to the social-networking service’s previous privacy missteps, said Facebook would have to tread cautiously.

“Expect continued scrutiny over privacy as Facebook struggles to go open to compete with Google, dragging along users to be more public every step of the way,” Altimeter Group analyst Jeremiah Owyang said.

Regulators in the United States and Europe will keep a close eye on how Facebook rolls out the latest features, says privacy advocate Jeffrey Chester.

“Facebook is becoming digital ground zero in the fight to protect online privacy. It's more concerned about selling its members' eyeballs to big-brand advertisers,” he said. “It hopes that by opening the floodgates of user data to its developers, it will reap online gold.”

Read Zuckerberg's blog post here

-- Jessica Guynn 

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