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Getting philosophical about Facebook's new hub

What's with the map? Here's why I think that the social network decided to redesign the page you see when you haven't yet logged in or signed up for an account.


Along with its nifty new iPhone application, Facebook on Monday night unveiled a new home page. No, not the moderately infamous "redesign" of its member pages--this is a new look for the page that you see when you navigate to without being logged in. It's what you'll see if you're not yet a member.

There's a pretty new blue gradient background, sure, and it makes the whole page look a little bit less stuffy. But more importantly, there's a map of the world with little Facebook "head" icons scattered about the globe connected by hash mark lines.

The term "social utility," one of founder Mark Zuckerberg's preferred phrases, is gone from the home page, replaced by the more Zen-like description of the social network: "Facebook helps you connect and share with the people in your life."

The map is significant. Facebook wants to be a global power, arguably in a way that not even Google is--look at the difficulty that Page, Brin, & co. have had dealing with regional rivals like China's Baidu. At the South by Southwest Interactive Festival in March, Zuckerberg talked about how young people in war-torn regions of the Middle East were using Facebook to communicate and broaden their horizons.

More than half of Facebook's 100-million-plus users are outside the United States now, which means that the social network may be well on its way toward achieving global domination over its regional rivals.

On a more speculative note, the fact that this new, map-adorned home page was released in conjunction with a new iPhone application is interesting. The iPhone 3G is GPS-enabled, and some have speculated that real-time location sharing of some sort may be on the way for Facebook.

There are a handful of start-ups that already have location-aware services, and consumers have been reluctant to adopt them; Loopt, Whrrl, and Brightkite haven't exploded the way some expected they would after they released iPhone 3G applications.

If Facebook made a move in the space, though, things could be different. Because, goodness knows, millions of Facebook users don't seem to have any qualms about sharing everything else about themselves on the Web.