Almost all of my thinking in terms of Web trends right now, is around social networking. I just couldn’t get my head around it, or see the big attraction around MySpace, Facebook, LinkedIn. So like I did with blogging back in 2005, I just into Facebook recently, in a bid to try and understand what all the fuss is about.
I’ll willingly to conceded that to date I’ve been massively wrong about Facebook. When they opened up the network beyond its US college core, I suggested that such a move would alienate its core user base and that its expansion was doomed to failure. I’ve previously been of the opinion that niche social networks would rule over the any big general social network. I’ve changed my mind on that one and I was obviously clearly wrong about Facebook. These guys are smart – real smart. There News Feed innovation was simply brilliant as was the platform direction.
Facebook and social networking came up a lot at last week’s Future of Media Summit that I attended – a fantastic day-long event that took place simultaneously between Sydney and San Francisco. I had intended to blog a bunch about this right off the bat, but I’ve had a stupid flu for more than a week now and it had just bowled me over by the end of last week.
I enjoyed the opportunity to ask a question of TechMeme’s Gabe Rivera’s. I’ve had a few email exchanges with Gabe as well as swapping comments and he’s a guy I respect a lot, so it was nice to see him speak even by videoconferencing. Gabe talked a bit about Facebook as well BuzzLogic’s Mitch Ratcliffe. BuzzLogic is probably the most interesting company around at the moment, I think, in the space I professionally inhabit – so having both him and Gabe on the same panel was a bit of a treat.
Ratcliffe described MySpace as a declining asset but suggested Facebook was overhyped as well, saying that while he and all his buddies had signed on, he hadn’t found much to do with the service. There was also the suggestion that Facebook was a walled-garden that would eventually be overrun by a more open approach.
Here’s my take on Facebook, for what it’s worth. Like most social services, it’s an application where the experience you get out of it, directly correlates to what you put into it. If you sign up, update your profile and then sit back and watch – you’re going to wonder what the point is. However, if you start uploading pictures, add as many as friends as you, write-on-walls and experiment with apps, there is a bunch to keep one amused and in the meantime you do grow your virtual relationships. Facebook has proved immensely useful for me professionally for finding story leads about the community MediaConnect covers as well as helping me to keep my relationships and friendships active.
But the “get what you put into it” model, means that Facebook is time-consuming. And its easy to fall off the wagon. My flu kept me away from Facebook for even just a few days and even in that time, I kind of lost the addiction.
So I see this Parakey acquisition as potentially another stroke of genius from the Facebook team. As I said, being social is time-consuming, which is probably ok if your a teenager or college student, but out here in the real world, anything that consumes more time than it saves is generally doomed to failure as soon as the novelty wears off and the realisation of how that time being invested could be better spent, eventually kicks in. What Parakey has the potential to do is make the Facebook experience much simpler. If we compute around the Facebook model, using Facebook apps, etc and then use Parakey as essentially our desktop interface then potentially Facebook can make it far easier for its users to interact and keep their profiles ticking over. As soon as you download your photos from your camera, for example, they upload straight into Facebook.
Why would we want to do that? Because Facebook is one of the few web services that truly starts with the foundation of what is essentially an advanced “address book” and wraps everything else around that.
I now believe that Facebook stands a terrific chance of being THE social network. I don’t think that means all social networks will die, because I think niche, interest-specific networks can give their users more to do and deliver more value than any general network can, even one that is trying to turn itself into a platform. I don’t think, either that Facebook has a lock on the position – because I do agree with the criticism that Facebook is somewhat of a walled garden and that a more open solution could be the long-term winner.
Whatever the case, Facebook is something anyone in media and the web needs to implicitly understand – if you don’t get it yet, keep working on it until you do – there’s something beyond the hype. Just how much is yet to be resolved, but based on the moves Facebook has made so far, I’m not ruling anything out.