Brace yourself–Facebook just exploded.
Facebook is the little social networking site that could. While Friendster collapsed under its own weight and MySpace got all the hype, Facebook has been steadily building something better: a useful experience. I’ve thought for a while that Facebook had a better setup, but a few weeks ago they introduced a new developer’s platform and the site’s potential has exploded.
MySpace sold for nearly $600 million and everyone thought it was insane. The price tag tossed around for Facebook lately is around $2 billion–and they’re not very eager to sell.
So what does this whole developer’s platform mean? Basically Facebook opened up their site to third-party companies to develop little software widgets that plug into Facebook. So you can display your Amazon.com reviews in Facebook, or share your Flickr photos, or your Last.fm playlist or your Flixster movie reviews.
But it’s not just a badge you slap on your page (like what people do on MySpace). Instead, these applications are integrated into your Facebook experience. My Facebook friends are now my Flixster friends (if I want them to be). My Facebook friends are notified when I post Flickr photos. I can invite my Facebook to friends to support my favorite cause (one of my favorite applications, thanks to the good it can do and the incredible growth).
Suddenly Facebook is no longer limited to what Facebook dreamed up for itself. It can be fully integrated with hundreds (soon to be thousands) of these little applications. We’re seeing convergence on the web.
Instead of launching your own web 2.0 startup and trying to get people to join, you can tap into the 24 million people already on Facebook (or do both). It’s a network ready to spread your new idea and immediately put it to work. And the best part is you don’t have to convince them to visit yet another site. Your new features are automatically built into the site they already visit and spend loads of time on.
And I think it all works so well because Facebook is built to be usable. Most things on Facebook are designed to be easier–the whole newsfeed concept lets you know what your friends are up to, a viral trail of ideas and time-suckage. As opposed to MySpace where you have to visit to see what’s new. It’s like RSS vs. bookmarks. And with all these new potential features tapping in, there’s amazing potential.
It Could Also Bomb
And amazing potential to fail:
“This may be the most important development since the company got started,” said Peter Thiel, a venture capitalist who was an early investor in Facebook and one of its three board members. “But the company is taking a massive gamble. There are lots of things that can go wrong with this.” (from the New York Times
One of the biggest issues is bugs. Not all of these applications work well. An application that stumbles at the start could cripple its ability to spread through the network. And too many bugs could turn people off.
Another danger is too much noise. The newsfeed is a cool way to see what’s happening, but it can also be too much. Facebook may need to add to its already impressive filtering system to keep the newsfeed useful.
And the ever present danger of spam. Facebook has been mostly immune to spam (I haven’t received any), while MySpace often seems to have more spammers than actual users (much like e-mail, I get more spam messages on MySpace than real ones). That could change quickly for Facebook.
Hopeful for Facebook
But despite the potential pitfalls, I’m hopeful for Facebook. It has networking power that can work. Just ask the Save Darfur campaign and the 124,417 members who joined and raised $9,382 since the Cause application launched on May 24.