SAN FRANCISCO--Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg took the stage at the company's F8 developer conference on Wednesday to unveil what he said is "the most transformative thing we've ever done for the Web." It's called the Open Graph.
There was no introduction: Zuckerberg just walked onstage in jeans, sneakers, and a black hoodie and started talking about Facebook's past F8 launches. In 2007, it was the original Facebook Platform. In 2008, it was Facebook Connect.
There are now more than 400 million people on Facebook, four times as many as there were the last time Facebook held an F8 event. It took Facebook only a year for Facebook Connect to have 100 million users on both mobile devices and Web sites.
Zuckerberg's first announcement was "a couple of important policy changes" to Facebook's platform, which first combine all of the various permissions a user must grant a third-party app or Connect partner into a single one-click process.
Next, those permissions will also be more permanent. "We've had this policy where you can't store and cache any data for more than 24 hours, and we're going to go ahead and we're going to get rid of that policy," Zuckerberg said. The audience cheered. "We think that this step is going to make building with Facebook Platform a lot simpler."
Zuckerberg also talked about Facebook's Credits virtual currency, which turns out to have a smaller presence at F8 than many expected. It's still in closed beta with only about 100 partners, but the company is accepting more. "We're building this quickly and we're working on scaling it out to the whole ecosystem," Zuckerberg said.
The bigger announcement was what Facebook calls the "Open Graph," and how Facebook plans to connect disparate corners of the Web that other social sites are building. "Yelp is mapping out the part of the graph that relates to small businesses. Pandora is mapping out the part of the graph that relates to music," Zuckerberg said. "If we can take these separate maps of the graph and pull them all together, then we can create a Web that's smarter, more social, more personalized, and more semantically aware."
"These connections aren't just happening on Facebook, they're happening all over the Web, and today with the Open Graph we're bringing all these things together," Zuckerberg said.
This is something that will go far beyond the "news feed" structure that Facebook pioneered several years ago.
"The stream is ephemeral. You post something to the stream and people see it for a few hours and then it mostly floats away," Zuckerberg said of the current craze in real-time streaming information--a possible dig at Twitter, the company that ignited it all and has been encroaching upon Facebook territory with its own "@Anywhere" product.
"We're going to make it possible to make those connections," Zuckerberg said. For example, a "news feed" item about a Yelp review of a restaurant could bring up more information about the restaurant and which of a user's Facebook friends have been there.
"We're going to connect all of those different graphs together to form the Open Graph, and when we connect all of those graphs together, the Web is going to get a whole lot better," Zuckerberg said.
Facebook Director of Platform Product Bret Taylor came onstage to unveil three product announcements that make up the Open Graph unveiling. He demonstrated "social plugins" for partner sites, one of which is CNN. These show a given user's Facebook friends' activity reading and commenting on the partner site. The biggest of these is the much-talked about "like" button that can be installed on partner sites and instantly be used to voice a Facebook member's approval of a given item.
"Once you put these 'like' buttons all around your site, the like buttons power a whole suite of social plugins," said Taylor, who joined Facebook when it acquired FriendFeed. An "activity streams" plugin will show all activities from the Facebook user's friend list on that third-party site. A "recommendations" plugin will provide suggested content to users. "It's not just 10 most e-mailed articles, this is truly powerful recommendations," Taylor said.
There's also a "social bar," which can provide "an all-in-one social experience" with a "like" button, Facebook chat, and friends list information that seems to be very much in the league of Google Friend Connect or the Meebo chat toolbar.
The second product announcement was the Open Graph protocol itself, which Taylor calls "a specification for a set of metatags which you can use to mark up your pages to tell us what type of real-world object your page represents." One partner site, the Amazon-owned Internet Movie Database, is using the Open Graph Protocol to mark up pages for each individual movie. Hitting the "like" button on an IMDb movie page will automatically add that movie to the "Favorite Movies" section of a Facebook user's profile.
Facebook is launching the Open Graph protocol with 30 partners.
"This is a really significant step for Facebook. For years we've been saying that FB is an open platform, but now for the first time, the likes and interests of my Facebook profile link to places that are not Facebook.com...My identity is not just definied by things on Facebook, it's defined by things all over the Web."
The third announcement from Taylor was the "Graph API," an overhaul of Facebook's platform code in which "every object in Facebook has a unique ID." There are a handful of new features, like a juiced-up search feature that will now make it possible for developers to search all public data on Facebook. The audience began to applaud when he announced that Facebook had partnered with Yahoo and Twitter to adopt the OAuth 2.0 authentication standard. For Facebook, which has been hesitant to adopt open standards, this is a big step.
"It's just objectively so much more awesome than our current system," Taylor said.
Zuckerberg came back onstage to conclude the big announcement. "We expect that in the first 24 hours alone we're going to serve one billion 'like' buttons on the Web," he said.
"The Web is at a really important turning point right now," Zuckerberg said. "Up until recently, the default on the Web has been that most things aren't social and most things don't use your real identity." Facebook, now, is forging its way across the Web and staking a claim to its infrastructure. Zuckerberg called the demonstrations at F8 "a taste of the future where everything can be more personalized." And, it seems, one where Facebook is the center of it all.
This post was last updated at 10:50 a.m. PDT.