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Google's nightmare: Facebook 'Like' replaces links

By Pete Cashmore, Special to CNN
  • Facebook's Web-wide "Like" button may spell trouble for Google
  • Facebook recently added button to let people recommend Web sites to friends
  • "Like" feature is more social version of Web link
  • But search engines may not have access to data about recommendations

Editor's note: Pete Cashmore is founder and CEO of Mashable, a popular blog about social media. He writes a weekly column about social networking and technology for

London, England (CNN) -- Facebook dropped a bombshell on the tech industry last week in the form of a Web-wide "Like" button and the launch of the "Open Graph."

Using this new platform, Web sites can drive Web traffic from Facebook by including Like buttons on their pages; every Like posts an update to that user's Facebook page.

What's more, any Web site can customize its experience for you, if you're logged into Facebook: Suddenly stories can be ranked not just by an editor but by your friends too.

Likes replace links?

Facebook announced Likes as a form of "social links" -- better than a link because it's related to a specific user. If Like buttons take off, that's really bad news for Google, since its algorithm uses links between sites to determine their order in search results.

Facebook seeks to replace this open system of links between pages with the "social links" (or Likes) that it controls. Google and other search engines won't have full access to all these Likes, so the company best positioned to rank the Web will be Facebook. No wonder the "open Web" advocates are sounding the alarm, concerned that a single company will stockpile all of our personal information and preferences.

Already there are calls to create an "OpenLike" standard that's accessible to all, reports Facebook watcher Nick O'Neill.

Facebook optimization?

Can the measurement of an industry affect the output of that industry? If an Academy Award is the ultimate measure of a movie, do directors set out to create great films or Oscar-winning ones?

Appearing on the first page of Google results for your chosen search term is perhaps the online equivalent of an Oscar win.

As Google rose to become the barometer of all that's worthy on the Web, publishers rushed to change their sites to appease the Google god. "Search Engine Optimization" became a massive industry; a multitude of SEO consultants sprung up, offering to tweak your Web site to better fit Google's measure of the Web.

What if Facebook Likes take off? Or to use the proper jargon: What if the Open Graph becomes the measure of the Web? Will publishers change their sites to appease our new overlord?

I'm already seeing it: Thousands of sites are adding Facebook's version of semantic data in preference to the open standards as Facebook becomes the new kingmaker. In the week since launch, more than 50,000 Web sites have added Facebook's "social plug-ins." All of which will make it blissfully easy for Facebook to organize the Web:

Facebook Optimization may be the new SEO.

Open Web advocates have reason to be concerned. Privacy experts are also raising red flags. No doubt they'll find an ally in Google: Without access to the stitches that bind Web pages together, the search engine could falter.