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Facebook gets on board with embedding, and here’s why the Web is better for it

Yesterday Facebook joined the slew of social services that offer embeddable content – and with that, the tide turned. Now Instagrams, tweets, and Facebook posts can all be built into sites and blogs … as can Spotify playlists, YouTube videos, and Google Maps. Almost anything even mildly interactive is embed-friendly.

Is the screen capture button scared yet?

It’s a living, breathing, changing thing, and it makes for better, more engaging content.

The embeddable Web has been a long time coming, and Facebook’s acquiescence signals that it’s won. Now, you can be part-owner of a piece of content by giving it life somewhere else on the Internet other than where it originally came from. As a content producer, I’m obviously biased: being able to embed a tweet or a Facebook posts means that instead of my formerly static, “flat” sourcing – a screen-captured image or a my own typing up of a quote – I’m able to give the reader more. The point of origin now exists in my copy, and you can see all these misspellings without a “sic” next to them, you can reference the timestamp, you can click it to return to its own page, and you can see how others are interacting with it there. It’s a living, breathing, changing thing, and it makes for better, more engaging content.

And while this ability to bring a source along for the ride in all its original content glory is a better experience for me and you, it comes at a cost for platforms: That cost is eyeballs on their own pages.

Facebook has held out this long because of a “walled garden” attitude. “In the past, Facebook has notoriously felt that everybody must come through them in order to see any of its content,” Embed Plus lead developer Tay Omojokun says. “The one reason behind that is so it can control how much monetization it can to put around the content, as opposed to if its content is embedded on someone else’s site.”

“We think the recent shift in this idea is because [Facebook] wants to ‘cast a wider net’ on Internet content as a whole, not just its own site.” 

Facebook wants to be more “public”-friendly. It sees how Twitter is monetizing its public conversations and knows that our penchant to keep things within a tighter social circle on its platform might help with suggested ads, but it won’t make Facebook a larger player. It won’t get a spot in reaction roundups, there won’t be discussions on what was “trending,” it can’t be considered a second screen feature.

But platforms aren’t the only ones that sacrifice by living outside their own URL domains; users do too.

“Twitter has been an embed provider for awhile now, and it has done two important things for them: Spreading their brand, and building clout,” says Embedly software engineer Andy Pellett. It’s a trade off for these platforms, even Twitter: they’re giving us the tools to transport their content (which links back to them) to wherever we want. While this means there will be more “Facebook” outside of Facebook proper (www.facebook.com), it also means you might not hit the link and go back. Why would you? Why give Facebook more pageviews? That’s the sacrifice these sites make.

But platforms aren’t the only ones that sacrifice by living outside their own URL domains; users do too. Your public Facebook posts were formerly just public inside Facebook, and now they can be public anywhere. That’s not to say if I did a Google Search for “people who make racist status updates,” yours would come up. It does mean if you’re posting racist status updates publicly on Facebook, I can find them (thanks, Graph Search and hashtags!) and embed them.

Sure, before the introduction of this tool, I could have found the same status updates, taken screen shots, and uploaded them – but there’s a reason you see round-ups of Twitter reactions to events. Because the embed is better, more interesting – and it’s the real thing (which also means it’s “more legal”).

“As the Web evolves from a frontier reserved for tech people into a metropolis for the masses, there are new expectations of usability and presentation,” says Pellett. “It is rarely easy or enjoyable explaining technical details like why there are shady advertisements next to the video you linked to. Not everyone is interested in those details, nor should they have to be. Embedding is all about streamlining the user experience.”

Yes, there are some user-facing implications of the Facebook embed support; mainly that if you participate in a discussion, you might find your status update living somewhere else (you could argue that since it was public to begin with, you have little ground for complaint). But the creative possibilities that come with embedding are undeniable. “API mashups became huge in the developer community a few years ago,” says Pellett. “Now content embeds allow a similar type of mashup of content aggregation.”

“Think about the increase in user engagement you see in a blog combining YouTube videos, tweets, Soundcloud tracks, Imgur galleries, and now even Facebook posts from an artist.” It’s a better Web, albeit it a more public one – with both parties, users and platforms, making sacrifices to enable it.

And with that, the static screen captured image breathed its death rattle. It shan’t be missed.