I’ve figured out Facebook’s secret plan and I love it. Everyone gets everything for nothing.
The everyone is truly everyone since Facebook is no longer about highschool and college kids. Most of the friend invites I get these days are from 30+ professionals busily expanding their network of… what exactly? Well, since the network is of everybody then is also must be the network of everything. What can’t you do on Facebook these days with the thousands of apps running on F8? As Scoble and Jeremiah point out, all your data can show up on Facebook. You can have your blog & Flickr photos and you can widgetize to death. What started as fun & entertainment only now is getting an increasingly meaningful utility component. Which brings us to the most important part–the nothing, which in this context means for little or no additional effort. That’s the brilliant part.
Facebook helps people be lazy. Don’t have time to update your profile? No problem. A friend who has some spare moments will post something on your wall. Sharing photo albums is no fun? No problem. Use one of ten (as of today) Flickr apps inside Facebook and your friends can see your pics. Need help with dating? Sit back and relax. Software can help. Since the early days of the Wall, Facebook has done many things (both big and small) right in terms of helping users extract maximum reward with minimum effort. “It’s ‘cos Mark went to Harvard,” points out an MIT friend of mine.
There are two key pillars to Facebook being successful in pulling this off over time. They need to shove all the content people care about inside Facebook. They also need to have many applications people care about run inside Facebook. The Facebook platform has been the answer. It’s simple, powerful and extensible social infrastructure that lets third parties leverage the content and activity of Facebook users. Through Web services, it allows all Net-accessible content to be co-opted via new applications into Facebook.
Which leaves an important piece out of the equation. People tend to have a lot of valuable content on their desktops and, hence, they tend to spend a lot of time doing things outside the browser, including spending valuable time uploading/downloading content from the desktop to/from the Net. Since this doesn’t agree with an everyone gets everything for nothing strategy, something had to be done.
In that light, the Parakey acquisition makes a ton of sense. Facebook not only gets media-loveable guru technologists and another story to feed the hype machine, they actually get some great technology. Parakey will allow desktop content to easily move into Facebook where it can become accessible to millions of users and thousands of applications. Further, Parakey will allow Facebook (and third party) content to come down to the desktop.
Much of the content consumers care about and many of the applications they care about will move smoothly between the browser and the desktop with Facebook in the middle of it all. If that doesn’t convince you of the company’s far-reaching aspirations, consider the fact that other industry biggies have recently gone big after the desktop.
Will Facebook become the next Microsoft, the next AOL or Google, or Visual Basic? I think the answer is none of the above. They want to be a new type of platform company where data and code are mashed up with people. We haven’t seen one of those yet. As Facebook touches more and more of people’s lives, more questions will come up. Hopefully, these will get resolved quickly so that a thriving ecosystem spawns on top of F8 + Parakey.