When users click the Like or Recommend button on a third-party website or within a Facebook app, it now publishes a full news feed story instead of just a one-line Recent Activity story. Previously, full stories with headlines, thumbnail images, and captions were only published if the website chose to implement the “Like with Comment” version of the button and users chose to add this additional context.
As the Like button now encompasses the functionality of the Share button, which Facebook has removed from its documentation, Facebook may phase out the Share button entirely. The change gives more prominence to outbound links in the news feed and on a user’s wall, and so will increase referral traffic and draw more sites to add the Like button.
Full stories appear larger, more compelling since they often include an image, and are ranked better in the news feed than Recent Activity stories. Therefore, the stories generated from clicks of the Like / Recommend button will been seen by more of a user’s friends and drive more traffic to third-party websites and apps than before.
Since Facebook launched its social plugins including the Like button at last year’s f8 conference, over 2.5 million websites have integrated them. In July, Facebook introduced Like with Comment, allowing some implementation to publish full feed stories.
By August, 350,000 sites had Like buttons, and that count is probably much higher now. Facebook has since allowed developers to integrate Like buttons with social games and other Facebook apps, and is trying to increase third-party awareness of their ability to publish news feed stories to those who click their buttons.
Up until now, Facebook had supported three different ways to share third-party content to the news feed:
- The Share button – When clicked, users see a Facebook Publisher dialog pop up allowing them to add a comment. It publishes a full feed story, similar to if the user had copied the link into the Publisher on Facebook.com. The Share button doesn’t subscribe users to future updates from the owner of the button.
- The Like / Recommend button without comment – When third-parties use the standard iframe Like button with a width less than 400 pixels, the button_count, or box_count version of the Like / Recommend button, users aren’t given the option to comment. A simple, one-line story linking to the content is published to the Recent Activity feed of the user’s wall, and the story is less frequently displayed in the news feeds of friends. Users are subscribed to future updates from the button’s owner.
- The Like / Recommend button with comment – When third-parties implement the XFBML version or the standard iframe version with a width of 400 pixels or more, users are always given the option to comment. If they comment, a full story is published. If they don’t comment, a simple story is published. Users are subscribed to future updates from the button’s owner.
Now, all versions of the Like / Recommend button publish a full feed story, whether a comment is added or not. The change has been applied retroactively, so old Recent Activity feed simple stories from Likes now appear as full stories. One exception is Like buttons that don’t represent real world objects and instead use the Open Graph og:type tag “Article”. These Likes for things including news articles, video clips, and photos do not appear in a user’s profile nor can those who Like these Open Graph pages be published to in the future.
Likes allow third-parties to publish future updates to a user, and therefore drive more traffic and create more lifetime value than Shares. This value lures additional third parties to implement Facebook’s social plugins, so it’s in Facebook’s interest to shift everyone from Share buttons to Like buttons.
The Share button is often displayed amongst a set of other buttons for Twitter, Digg, bookmarking, and email, but Facebook would rather have its own real estate opposed to being lost amongst the competition. Now that Facebook has given the Like button almost a year to prove its worth, third-parties would probably implement a Like button if they could no longer use the Share button, granting Facebook this improved placement.
The phase out of the Share button is evident in Facebook’s documentation. The “Facebook Share” typeahead result shown when searching for “Share” on the developers site directs to the Like button documentation page.
One potential downside for users is if they participate in contests run by sites or apps that use Like buttons to tabulate votes. Some users might not want to publish a full feed story for each vote, and would have to delete the posts one by one after they’re published.
Overall, the change will benefit users, third-parties, and Facebook. Compelling Liked content from around the web will appear in the news feed more frequently, initiating discussions between friends. Third-parties will gain traffic from new users, inspiring more to implement Facebook’s social plugins.
This increased presence across the internet will spread awareness of Facebook, raise barriers for its competitors, and seed a client base for a potentially monetizable plugin, such as an Open Graph ad unit.
[Thanks to Amit Lavi and Paula Ford for the tips]