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Get ready for some big Facebook changes

By David Goldman, staff writer


NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Facebook, the world's largest social network, is set Wednesday to unveil changes at its f8 developers conference that have already caused a stir.

Though Facebook hasn't officially announced any new features, hints have emerged about what will be included.

One of the more controversial changes: Facebook is expected to announce that it will start providing users' personal information to some select third-party Web sites.

Sites could use that information to display what a user's Facebook friends have read on that site. Users could also share more between their social network and the outside Web.

Critics have already expressed concern about the privacy implications of such a service. A similar program called Beacon, unveiled in 2007, caused such a stir among users that the company canned it last year.

Some experts say Facebook learned from its mistakes with Beacon, but it still needs to frame the argument better to get its customers on board. Instead of waiting until Wednesday, Facebook somewhat covertly made the proposed change to its privacy policy late last month and opened it up for public comment.

"It's not a surprise that the feedback has been quite negative so far," said Augie Ray, social networking analyst for Forrester Research. "Facebook needs to start framing these issues in ways that make the benefits to consumers clear. They're being much more transparent, but there's still a lot of room for improvement."

Despite some pushback from users, the move is part of a big effort from Facebook to continue to grow beyond facebook.com.

"It's evident that Facebook wishes to expand its reach," said Ray. "Facebook has created a very effective and valuable destination site that eats up enormous amounts of users' time, but for the most part, users have to go to facebook.com to get that value."

Other changes on the docket

Universal "like" button: One big change that users will probably see as early as this week is a "like" button displayed on Web sites outside of Facebook. Users are very familiar with the "like" button on Facebook, which broadcasts to a user's network that he or she likes a photo, comment or post.

Facebook is expected to announce Wednesday that "like" buttons will start to show up across the Internet, enabling users to share items with friends when they're not physically on facebook.com.

Location: Like Twitter, Facebook is a little behind on the location-based service craze, as much of that thunder has been stolen by companies like Foursquare and Gowalla.

Still, none of those services has nearly the number of users that Facebook has. If Facebook successfully launches a service that shows comments about specific places, it could prove invaluable to both users who are looking for reviews of events and locations and companies who are looking to target those people.

"It's clear that Facebook wants to know where you are," said Ray. "It recognizes how valuable that information is both for advertisers and users."

Real-time search: Also among the biggest rumored announcements is real-time search on third-party search sites, similar to Twitter's service. Facebook is expected to announce that users' public posts will be available for search on sites like Google and Bing.

"It remains to be seen how consumers would adopt real-time search of Facebook feeds," said Ray. "It's a different kind of search from Google and Twitter -- would you want to search on Google to see what your friends say?" To top of page

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