I Do Not Get Facebook


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?

4 Comments

Filed under Business, Thoughts

4 responses to “I Do Not Get Facebook

  1. We should talk. Apps on top of a social network have a ton of very interesting possibilities. But it also suggests a direction that “platforms” will take in the future.

  2. I agree, thus the questions of whom is playing catch up. That part it is still not very clear to me yet.

  3. Jon

    Wow – I can’t say I disagree, but I still don’t think you get it – which is surprising you are freakin smart. First, Facebook appeals to a group of people that are the hardest of hard core users – college kids who literally use Facebook more then any other application. What Facebook has done is similar to google in that they focused on utility. I don’t spend time on google, I go to google to find things. Facebook is similar – but different. I am on Facebook all day (and I’m 33). The utility is tremendous. I have 150 friends – real friends) that I can keep up with too some degree. There is not enough time in the day for me to speak to all my friends so how do I keep up. Email, RSS? Some of my friends are not that technical to ‘blog’ and with junk filters and black lists, email is not even a guarantee. In comes facebook.

    I am going to CTIA in a week and I can post an update on Facebook and my friends know – anyone coming who wants to see me – can. The concept of a social graph and how to best utilize it is incredibly powerful. But that is not even the reality of the value. Communities are tough to build and in reality useless. As niches get sharper and more defined – there is no need for me as a consumer to set-up a new profile, add pictures, add friends, blog, etc.. over and over!!!! It’s crazy. The switching cost in time and energy is absurd. So myspace (which is opening up it’s platform) thinks we are locked into their world but ultimately the switching cost is not enough to keep me in.. So Facebook says don’t try to aggregate an audience – don’t build a platform and most importantly DON’T assume a user wants to populate a profile, preferences etc. So you, the developer, build on us and try to hook the audience with value. Are their flaws – of course – but both strategically and practically Facebook is king.

  4. Jon:

    There are two parts to the technology equation. One is the technology as a play and strategically positioning it for value and growth. The other is the actual application and applicability of the technology.

    On the applicability, to a large extent is a matter of preference in how you want to interact with a particular ecosystem. You may like it while I do not. Or the available features are good enough for you and not for me. There is no write or wrong. Just preferences.

    On the strategic play, what is it that Facebook wants to be? If it wants to be the holder of the social graph and only that, then somebody will come along that will do it better or different or what not. But if they want to be a true platform, then they need to appeal to you and to me. You and I are looking for different things. And a true platform should support us both.

    So, my point in this post was to the fact that Facebook has a great chance to compete with Google. They got all the components and specially a captive audience that they can leverage in many ways. Plus, they are funding and propelling its expansion. But they are still missing the productivity apps where I can not only use word but share it with my network. They can turn the social graph into true productivity. But they need more than a “send me a beer” application. They have a great starting point. I want to see what they do with it.

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