To your brain: Enjoy this video.
Archives for November 2007
Don Dodge opines 50M Facebook users don’t care about OpenSocial APIs and tries to convince us that Facebook is not dead. Granted that Microsoft just spent $250M on Facebook so it must hurt to see all the coverage going to Google rather than letting Microsoft bask in the afterglow of its miniscule stake in Facebook. But, it looks like he is slaying an imagined Dragon.
Here is the opening salvo:
There are 50 Million Facebook users who don’t know what OpenSocial APIs are…and don’t care. There are about 5,000 tech bloggers and developers who think it is a revolution that will “Checkmate” Facebook and leave them with no moves. TechMeme has over 100 stories saying that OpenSocial is awesome and Facebook is dead. MySpace joins Google on OpenSocial initiative. OK, surely that settles it, Facebook is dead. Nope, not in my opinion.
I am with him so far, the battle is far from over – its not even fully begun. But then Don articulates his rationale for why OpenSocial is irrelevant and why Facebook is not dead.
Facebook is about the user community. Facebook has always been focused on the user community and providing a great user experience. Does this user community know or care that the apps are built using FBML vs. XML? Nope. There are already at least 20 other social networks out there to choose from. Are they fleeing Facebook for these alternatives? Nope. It is all about the community, and where your friends are. Are there some users who would like to transfer their Facebook friends list to another social network? Probably some. Maybe even 5,000.
Well, its been less than a week so its premature to count the numbers. And the whole point of having a well-defined standard API is that users don’t have to care – the social networks can interoperate without having to understand APIs, import/export rules, etc. The sites can work with each other’s APIs to make the user experience more seamless as she switches between sites. I repeat – integration is at its best when its invisible to the end users. I thought we-need-to-integrate-everything-under-the-sun-into-Windows Microsoft would have grokked this.
Are Facebook users going to cancel their account? Nope, I doubt it. OK, so every tech blogger and social network developer is going to cancel their Facebook account and go to what? Orkut? Even if they did that would amount to about 5,000 users which is less than one/one hundredth of one percent of Facebook users. Or put another way 99.9999% of Facebook users will be happy to stay right where they are. And, Facebook probably adds 5,000 new users a day anyway. So the impact (revolution) will be over in one day. By next week this is old news.
I have yet to see anyone suggest that users will be en-masse canceling their Google accounts. Nobody is burning their Windows machines just because they bought an iPod or a Mac. The question is: Will OpenSocial make it more likely for a user to expend the effort in maintaining a non-Facebook account knowing that the information she enters can now (or will in future) be leveraged across a broad spectrum of sites.
Did Facebook users approve this? When I agreed to be a friend of Robert Scoble, Mike Arrington, Marc Andresseen, and others on Facebook, that was just Facebook. Did I agree to have my “friend relationship” exposed on Orkut or 20 other social networks? No. Don’t get me wrong, I am proud to be friends with Robert, Mike, and Marc. But, I think most users would agree that they didn’t expect that their “relationship” would be exposed on other social networks. Or, that their name, picture, or any part of their personal profile would be exported to another social network. There may be a significant privacy issue here, or some questions about the use of PII (Personally Identifiable Information).
First off, this question is irrelevant Facebook is not part of OpenSocial. But let’s apply this question to non-FB sites like Orkut. The OpenSocial API does not force any site or user to share her information – it creates a standard if they choose to do so. Significant Privacy issues is what Telco’s bring up when they don’t want to allow third-party apps on their networks. FUD at its very best. And to top it all off, Don conveniently forgets that Facebook itself has “Import” addressbook functionality for sucking up my Gmail, Yahoo! Mail and Hotmail addresses. What do they say about good for the Goose?
Will developers stop building Facebook apps? No, of course not. Facebook provides a pretty good API set and a pretty simple way to develop applications for Facebook. Does anyone really think that developers will abandon Facebook and instead only write to the OpenSocial API set? Seriously, what are these tech bloggers thinking? Developers are very skilled at building web apps that work on both Internet Explorer and FireFox, or Windows and Linux. It really isn’t a big deal to use Facebook’s FBML which is just XML with extensions.
“Does anyone really think that developers will abandon Facebook and instead only write to the OpenSocial API set? Seriously, what are these tech bloggers thinking?” I am not sure who suggested this. Seriously Don, what are you thinking? Did you just read the paranoia book by Andy Grove? Breathe, its going to be okay. No one is leaving anyone or killing any one. We are just letting sites exchange information using a standard API. May be, Mister Softee can learn. Could save you billions.
In fact, the very posts Don links to including this New York Times article say things like:
“The alliance is not likely to erode the popularity of Facebook or immediately alter the dynamics of the social networking market. But it could help revitalize the sites of some of its members, which have seen their social networks eclipsed by the popularity of MySpace and Facebook. Orkut, Google’s social network, for instance, is popular in Brazil and a few other countries, but not in the United States.”
But Don continues-
Not one single app has been written and not one single user has left Facebook, and already the tech cognoscenti is saying Facebook is dead. Get a grip guys.
Who? Where? Get a grip. Seriously.
P.S. Note to the humor challenged- Read this post with your sense of humor flag set to true. And Don – I am sending you a Facebook invite! Remember – this is about social networking. 😉
(Disclaimer: Please read disclaimer at the bottom of the page. Personal opinion etc.)
Even before Google announced OpenSocial, many of us had talked discussed whether a site can be the platform or is the internet itself “the social networking platform”. I had stated “It is my perhaps not so humble opinion that the internet will continue to evolve as the platform for social networking.“
Here is my post from June 26, 2007. (Yes, there is an element of I said so.)
It is my perhaps not so humble opinion that the internet will continue to evolve as the platform for social networking. The early successes and leading sites like Facebook that have gained traction have an opportunity to be part of the broader ecosystem but I disagree with the opinion of some of my peers that one particular company will dominate social networking. The desire to be the platform and the glory that comes with it seems to encourage every successful entrepreneur to declare his technology, website or tool to be the platform.
Lately, there is been a lot of discussion about Facebook and its platform ambitions in particular. Fellow Irregular, Dennis Howlett has a post on ZDNet today nicely summarizing some of the discussion.
What is a platform and how do I build one quickly?
I define a platform as a set of tools, technology or more broadly any layer that allows new products or services to be built with an order of magnitude less resources than was possible before the platform.
Excellent examples of platforms include railway network, power grid, internet, telephony network, etc. In the technology realm, platforms that have made an impact include mainframes, databases, operating systems, email, etc. For example – before the railway network, if you wanted to build a power plant or a factory, you had to lay down the tracks, buy rail engines and bogies, etc. and all the costs had to be borne by one single entity.
It takes a lot of time and effort to build a platform. Most importantly, all platforms start out as applications solving a particular business or technical problem – in other words, platforms evolve from applications. Computers started out as specialized calculators to perform census or scientific calculations and over several decades generalized to what we call computers. Similarly, road networks evolved over 100+ years as people built roads from point A to point B – till the ‘network effects’ kicked in and Eisenhower launched the famous Interstate project.
Do you remember the previous platforms? AOL??
Many online businesses have thought they can short circuit this process and become the platform. Remember, when AOL was the dominant internet (with its own domain name system or AOL Keywords) or Amazon was the platform for online shopping. A single business entity has advantages of speed and single minded-ness that it can leverage to provide a compelling solution rather than wait for the ecosystem to evolve but eventually the broader system catches up and overtakes the giants.
So what are the underlying issues Facebook is addressing. As quoted on the ZDNet blog, I think the following are the principles underlying a next generation social platform :
- People want online identities to establish trust-based professional and personal relationships. FaceBook provides this but I believe in the long run a third party validation system could provide you with a ‘universal’ identity (with multiple faces/avatars/usernames) to conduct business over the wider internet.
- People want control over who connects to them and when. FaceBook, email and GoogleGroups provide this in different ways.
- People want a publishing platform. Unlike email, this is information or opinion you want to share but don’t want to push in an email. Blogs, MySpace, FaceBook, Twitter, YouTube, etc all do this. Email and IM are not good at this.
- Plus all the basic goodies like document sharing, managing relationships (invites, forwarding), messaging, etc.
These are just some of the issues and there are several groups and companies dedicated to solving some of these challenges like Identity & Trust, Content Management & User Control, Publishing, Messaging, etc.
I believe Facebook shows us in a small way what would be possible if we solved some of these challenges. But if you think Facebook is the final answer, then you may end up feeling like people that bet on MySpace as the social networking platform or AOL as the internet. Not very smart.
What do you think about Facebook? Is Google the real platform? What about Cisco & WebEx? Or Microsoft?