Everyone talks about the social “efficiency” of Facebook but the reality is Facebook isn’t efficient at all. It’s just more efficient than what we’ve had in the past.
And the reality is if Microsoft was to re-think its operating system strategy and go down the social path it could whack Facebook good and proper.
Every body in the blogosphere is talking about Steve Ballmer’s comments that Facebook might just be a fad. A lot of people are getting up in arms over this saying Microsoft “doesn’t get it” – gosh, where have I heard that before. Although I do lend a certain amount of credence to Robert Scoble’s blog on the topic given that he’s been inside the operation and therefore has a more sophisticated understanding of how Ballmer and co. might be thinking, then I could ever pretend to.
However, since I’ve been covering the tech industry as a reporter and blogger for the last dozen years or so, I’ve heard people say “Microsoft doesn’t get it”, a thousand times before. The fact is Microsoft’s operating system advantage is such a massive factor that Microsoft can come late to the party and then deliver a king-hit that knocks the opposition for six. Netscape anyone?
If Facebook should be scared of anyone, it should be scared of Microsoft because if Microsoft was to build social functionality into its Windows operating systems it could deliver an ecosystem a thousands times more effective than what Facebook is.
Let’s remember that Facebook has been positioned as a platform. And it’s doing alright on that front with 40 odd million users. However, as a platform its a minnow when compared to Windows.
So what happens to Facebook if Windows gets social? Facebook dies. And Mark Zuckerberg starts to think that he probably should have snapped up that $15 billion valuation.
So what do I mean by this? We come back to this concept of “social efficiency”.
Right now, I’m required to go and visit Facebook when I want to keep up with what my friends are doing. Which means that when my friend updates his status to say ‘… is in Sydney for 2 days’ and I don’t log into Facebook during that time, I miss out on catching up.
In fact, most of the methods of interacting with Facebook are a chore. Uploading pictures, updating my status, etc, etc all require me to log back into Facebook whereby I typically spend another 15 minutes catching up with everything that has happened since I was there last. Facebook is still a time sink.
If on the other hand, my computer itself becomes social then the ‘efficiency’ is greatly increased. I upload pictures from my camera directly into my social drive which automatically shares them with my friend. Infact, while I’m working away, it’s making use of my PC’s significant processing power to do facial recognition in the background and automatically tagging all my photos with my friends identities and then IMing them to let them know I’ve posted the pics. I’m getting desktop alerts of all the updates my computers deems important enough and everything else is running through my Vista sidebar. I’m using new desktop apps that suddenly have new P2P collaborative abilities because they’re tapping into the social graph that is now a part of every Windows PC. My Media Player is automatically updating my friends on what I’m listening to and they can use P2P to share that song in a Zune-like fashion.
You tell me that’s not a Facebook killer?
Now, the first objection will be that if you don’t run Windows you’re locked out but Microsoft can have an online version for the Mac and Linux fans that let’s them participate, just not as efficiently.
That’s Microsoft 101, embrace but then extend via Windows.
Facebook have already shown that they’re not oblivious to this threat. They’re only acquisition has been Parakey – a technology that is about synching your computer and your online experience. Facebook is clearly looking at evolving into a social platform that sits between the operating system and your web applications – but the problem with that is its not efficient as it can be – it can always be done more efficiently in the operating system.
However, while I think Microsoft is the vendor who can overthrow Facebook, the question is will they? I’ve blogged before how Microsoft’s next operating system needs to be web-native. It needs to assume that every PC is connected and leverage the incredible advantages that affords. Vista should be the last desktop operating system – the next Windows to use Microsoft’s own terminology should be live but it should also be social