A few weeks ago I was playing with Facebook and I did not get it. I wrote the template for this post and called it “I Do Not Get Facebook”, because I truly did not get it and was not impressed with what they have done … what was the hoopla all about? But now I get it. It is very clever and they have a shot a beating Google at their own game, or at least giving them a run for their money: Online Operating Systems.
When I first read Facebook had opened up to external application development, I was not too impressed. After all Google had had APIs for a long time. And even before Google, I built for Pictage a system that allowed functionality to be exported to other websites, as well as for Hoodiny Entertainment Group. Actually for Hoodiny I designed and architected a system where other people could build entire applications and websites based on published functionality. So … again, what’s the big deal?
The big deal is not at the technical level but at the strategic level. Google’s entire strategy, it seems, is to provide an off-site application operating environment. Vis-a-vis an Operating System. Google does not just provide search, but provides spread-sheets, word processing, an ad network, email, video, social media, different content, maps, hybrid apps that require web connectivity and live half in the web and much much more. They are also bidding for the 700Mhz frequency for cellular communication and are in the process of laying cable to Australia. Moreover, there are rumors that Google wants to take over Sirius, the satellite radio provider – I do not think it is just an experimental platform for Google’s radio ad network, but there is more there than meets the eye.
Over all, Google is providing all the underpinnings and tools needed to have thinner clients. In other words, if Google provided you with all the business applications you will need as an individual and/or enterprise; if Google had all your data; if Google provided you with connectivity everywhere; if Google provided you with other public domain data or pay-for-access data (online books, reports, etc.), and everything else you needed, then … why would you need a full blown desktop? And why wouldn’t you have a more mobile platform for your personal and business use? The answer to that is simple: you absolutely would. Google is presenting to users the ultimate in SaaS (software as a service.)
There are other companies that are on the same track. Amazon being one of them, Microsoft too with Live, Yahoo! and definitely Facebook. But not all are at the same level of development and market penetration or even strategically looking toward the same goal.
As opposed to Google, Facebook took a different approach: “We are not going to build it but our partners will. We will just provide the platform, the traffic and the way to monetize it.” Or at least it seems that way. Google recently decided, based on some postings on the web, to take a similar approach. But by not being there first, they open up to risk. Let’s face it, Google is not a startup anymore and it will have a lag in responding to market needs or changes. Facebook remains more nimble and thus, can respond to market “demands” faster, but not necessarily better. Additionally, not being first to market does mean a lot, but, what is does not mean is that you are dealt out of it.
So … who will win?
I am not sure. I definitely get Facebook now. I get it A LOT. I still do not find much usability for the site myself, but the fact remains, they are doing the right things in my eyes, at least strategically. It is lacking an even basic office productivity suite like a word processor – at least that I can find – or a spread-sheet or presentation, but they have a solid foundation. Google on the other hand, if the rumors are true, is about to open up. The real question is: Facebook has had a great deal of adoption and with the fbFund they will be able to get some of the missing pieces … so … who is playing catch up? Google or Facebook?