Facebook Wants to be Your Gateway to the Web

November 22, 2010

By Robin Wauters @ Techcrunch.com

It’s a very old trick, and arguably a mighty effective one. Ask people to set your website as their homepage, and it will become their entry point to the Web, the very first thing they’ll see when they open their browser. Venturebeat noticed that Facebook started prompting visitors to set the site as their homepage before the weekend, by means of a bar at the top that actually shows some pictures and names of your Facebook friends.

Others have reported to see the bar popping up as well, and reader Ryan Merket from Appbistro just checked in to tell us that he’s seen it as well. You can see two other pop-up messages below, and you’ll notice that they differ from the one embedded above.

From the looks of it, Facebook is A/B testing this with a small subset of users, and trying out a variety of messages and pop-up layouts to figure out which one yields the best results.

This is undeniably a significant move, particularly when it will roll out to the site’s roughly 500 million active users in full. Keep in mind that Google and other search engines benefit greatly from being a genuine starting point to the rest of the Web, which is why so many people select such services to come up as soon as they open their Web browser.

Being people’s homepage is good for branding, great for ‘stickiness’ and phenomenal for traffic.

But for many people, social networking sites are slowly taking over at least part of the role of search engines, which is mainly to retrieve information. When you can tap your entire social graph for answers to your queries, sites like Facebook have the ability to push aside search engines like Google as the first site that springs to mind when people think about surfing the WWW to find information, connect to other people, communicate with friends, and so on.

I can easily see why more and more people would eventually switch to Facebook as their homepage of choice, and actively prompting them to do so might be just what some Facebook users need to actually configure their browsers to do just that.

Come to think of it, I’m wondering why Facebook hasn’t been doing this forever.

Facebook’s traffic is still very much not going anywhere but up, but the social network could still see a massive bump in total pageviews and time spent on the site if they can convince even just a tiny percentage of their total user base to set Facebook.com as their homepage.

That said, you’ve set TechCrunch as your homepage, right?