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Reading TechCrunch (yes, I confess I sort-of read ValleyWag too), I first came across an article which discusses Facebook's new "venture fund" (I use quotes since they give grants) in conjunction with Acel and Founders Fund. It sounds like they have $10M worth of funding to give to startups developing Facebook applications in grants ranging from $25K to $250K. $250K certainly is not bad for an angel round, though the grant includes first right of refusal for any future funding rounds for your startup. It makes a lot of sense in terms helping to guarantee money for developer's of Facebook applications given the unpredictable VC market for 2008. This is interesting as it is also right on the heels of the discovery that Facebook plans to offer data storage to applications as well; most likely in a play to compete with Amazon S3.

At FooCamp this year, I led a session along with a few others asking the question if Facebook is becoming the new AOL of the '90s. Basically looking at how many of their actions seem to be mimicking the naive behavior that everyone will live within your world on the Internet. Just as AOL tried to keep users off of the actual Internet, Facebook seems to be trying to create an ecosystem where:

  • Users don't have to leave Facebook.com to send messages (email), update their status (Twitter), share photos (Flickr), post notes (blog), plan events (Upcoming, eVite), etc
  • Advertisers don't have to leave Facebook.com to purchase targetted banners and text ads
  • Search engines will soon be able to index Facebook profiles
  • Communities can hold conversations and share photos
  • Developers can have (purchase?) storage
  • Business people can have funding
  • etc

While I don't want to be the one to predict doom (though many others have before me), Facebook has a few things going against them. One of the major concerns I'd have in my mind if I were them, is what will happen when Google, Amazon, Yahoo!, and Microsoft really feel threatened? Assuming that one day Google does do evil (or even not evil, but something which really gets people up in arms about data storage, privacy, and aggregation) would they not try to point at others in the industry with equivalent (or worse) practices? All of a sudden, just as has happened to RapLeaf last week, Facebook could be bearing the brunt of people not realizing their favorite bong hit photos are now being indexed by Google Images, status message "about screwing their boss" indexed by Yahoo!, and a crazy toga party automatically syndicated into Upcoming. While a Google employee told me that "search engine innovations always cause changes to views on privacy", I think it will be hard for Facebook to find an excuse if they try to piss off the companies which are going to be getting the brunt of these attacks.

The interesting juxtaposition here is in a second TechCrunch article which chronicles Mark Zuckerberg's interview yesterday. Mark said, "a social graph is a model for Facebook, we’re not trying to make new connections, but mirror the real world. On platform, the idea is providing more utilities for users, part of the bigger social graph." It is interesting that he (quite possibly being misquoted) doesn't view Facebook (in this answer) as a tool to make new connections.

While it certainly used to mirror the real world, today more and more of my Facebook "friends" are those I've only met virtually. Where I see Facebook really failing at mirroring the real world is giving me tools to have different sorts of relationships within their ecosystem. Not everyone I meet in the real world is really a "friend", nor is letting them only see my "limited profile" really mirroring the real world either. I quite honestly preferred Facebook when it was just my friends from high-school and college; it was actually a valuably intimate (no, not in the MySpace sense) social network.

While I've never spoken directly to anyone from Facebook (largely since they never show up to community events), I'm somewhat comforted to hear Mark's phrasing of, "part of the bigger social graph." I unfortunately have a hard time with it given the number of moves Facebook has made to own the ecosystem. It is disappointing hearing stories from developers who see F8 as a very one sided platform; you're allowed to put your data in but not take it out. I'm waiting for the first application which adds all of your Facebook friend's email addresses to your Gmail contacts, just as Facebook is so happy to suck them out via their "invite your friends" feature.

So does Mark really see Facebook as part of the bigger Internet, or is this a well rehearsed marketing line given what we all stirred up a few weeks ago?



( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 18th, 2007 06:59 pm (UTC)
Comparing Facebook with the AOL of the 90s is quite interesting. However, if it was like this, visiting a website in the 90s would be a much better experience for AOL users than for other ISP users - because using an application with Facebook (where my social graph is already available) is better than recreating my social graph at that particular site.

There will (actually already are) sites and businesses who build entirely on Facebook, each of them being a good excuse to have a FB account. And finally, when everybody is on FB, why should they open up to decentralized social networking (OpenID + microformat etc. approach)?

I'd reply to your original question Is Zuckerberg Trying to Own the Social Graph? with Yes, and add that's a tough thing for the OpenID and social graph sharing community.
Sep. 18th, 2007 09:34 pm (UTC)
People sadly like the benefits of being owned.

People like their iPods. People like biting chumps.
Sep. 19th, 2007 12:55 am (UTC)
Friends on Facebook
the fact that you're accepting friending invitations fm people who aren't your "real world" friends is purely by choice. I for one do accept very many of those because I don't want to have my NewsFeed full of updates about people I don't really care about. What's the point? so, I'd chock up this friending concern of yours as more of a user error sort of item rather than a real world issue.

as for them being the next AOL, I'd say that AOL was missing a lot of functionality and was a content gate keeper which prevented outside companies and developers fm reaching their users. that's not been the case w/Facebook, though it's clear they have set some rules of engagement to keep the experience positive (ie. reduce spamming, keep system performance high, etc.). AOL in the mid-90s begrudgingly released a Web browser that sucked in order to keep its monopolistic behavior.

so far, I've found a lot of use fm Facebook and do not feel like I'm missing something. the reality is that most users don't want to be bothered logging in to 10 different apps. one for blogging, one for twittering statuses, one for reminders, one for events, etc...etc... I like the idea of logging in once and seeing what all my friends are doing, what events are coming up, who's listening to what, what friends like the same movies as I do, etc. and I don't need this to all be fm the same app provider, but do enjoy the common UI.

while I understand that one provider having all of the info isn't a good thing, if the service is convenient and offers value for me then I'd have to argue that there's nothing wrong w/that. the fact that they don't let data out is more of a concern to other developers than it is to me the "user".
Sep. 19th, 2007 01:29 am (UTC)
Facebook @ community events
Hey there. I noticed that you said that Facebook doesn't make community events. Interestingly enough, I see them all the time at PHP events. So perhaps they just don't make whatever events you are making?


Nice article though.
Sep. 20th, 2007 07:40 am (UTC)
Re: Facebook @ community events
Yeah, I guess I was talking about things like BarCamp where the conversation is often less on technology and more on business, strategy, etc. So maybe I'm just at the wrong set of events. :)
Sep. 20th, 2007 09:00 am (UTC)
The Potato, the Banana, and Facebook
What do Facebook, Skype, and the Great Potato Famine have in common? They're all examples of the dangers of monoculture.

Between 1845 and 1849, a small fungus-like organism DDOSed the agricultural economy of Ireland, whose population at the time stood at 8 million. A million people died of famine. Another million fled as refugees.

On August 17 2007, a software outage took out Skype. At any given moment, over 8 million users are online with Skype; while none of them starved, many fled to Gizmo Project. Many telecommuter companies simply ground to a halt and gave everyone the day off. I know eBay and PayPal were hit pretty hard.

Friendster failed when it couldn't scale. Orkut failed (for me, at least) when it got taken over by Brazilian porn stars. MySpace hasn't exactly failed, but ZOMG SO FUGLY. I can't predict what Facebook's failure mode will be. But it's coming.

And when it does arrive, millions of people who absolutely can't live without Facebook will gnash their teeth and wring their hands and say, "how ever did we become so dependent on this thing?" And, like the millions of infected end-users now deliberating between Zombie XP and Zombie Vista, they'll say, "what do you mean, the hard drive crashed and all my data is gone?"

True, that hasn't happened yet with eBay. And Google has never gone down on me. If VeriSign's Atlas constellations can boast 100% uptime even under continuous DDOS, other services can, in theory, do the same.

But the fact remains: fifty years ago we all ate Gros Michel bananas. They succumbed to yellow sigatoka. Now we all eat Cavendish bananas ... and they're succumbing to Panama disease (http://www.popsci.com/popsci/science/5a4d4c3ee4d05010vgnvcm1000004eecbccdrcrd.html).

H.G. Wells: Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.

Santayana: Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

In prehistoric times, our species decided that it would be evolutionarily adaptive to remember past mistakes. So we invented the grandmother.

Modern societies take that function away from grandmothers and give it to cultural institutions instead. For example, we've learned that monopolies are bad, and so we have antitrust laws and a Department of Justice to work them. We're learning that industrial corn-fed monocultures are bad, so we have Michael Pollan and Joel Salatin and his personal army of organic free-range pigs.

On one level we know that it's better to have a million web servers running Apache and Movable Type and Wordpress, than to put all our faith in a single data center at 365 Main that knocks out half the Web 2.0 world when a generator fails.

But the Internet has no government. As societies go, it's about as mature as Buffalo Bill's Wild West. Nobody is performing the grandmother function. We are all, collectively, asleep at the switch.

What would Jared Diamond, author of Collapse, have to say?
Sep. 20th, 2007 09:52 am (UTC)
"the bigger social graph"
BTW: "the bigger social graph" ... I do not think it means what you think it means. Or, at least, Zuckerberg does not think it means what you think it means.

When Zuckerberg says "the bigger social graph" he means the set of people you already know in real life and online, plus the set of people you don't.

The part that Zuckerberg cares about are the people you know. Facebook wants to explicitly record those data structures on their disk, and so it makes it easy for users to do just that. (Remember the definition of Web 2.0: you make all the content, they keep all the money.) Some users have not already done so elsewhere, so they don't mind. Some users may have done so elsewhere, but they appreciate that "Facebook fatigue" is ameliorated by the very fact that apps can run on top of Facebook, and they'll never have to do it again. The viral stuff helps tremendously.

The people you don't know, well, Facebook doesn't care about that part so much.

Facebook does not place the kind of emphasis on those connections that, say, LinkedIn does. This is why they didn't have public profiles for a long time.

So that's what Zuckerberg means when he says those words. What about Recordon?

I'd wager that when Recordon and Çelik say "the bigger social graph", they have in mind something completely different: they are thinking about the data structures that already exist on disk, in the form of microformats, XFN, etc, on third party websites outside Facebook.

To them, "part of the bigger social graph" means that Facebook should interoperate with the larger ecosystem. For example, LiveJournal exposes friend data: if you go to somebody.livejournal.com/data/foaf you will get data structures that machines can read.

And they want Facebook to do the same.

It won't.

Zuckerberg wants to own your social graph. That's defensible, proprietary IP. That's his ticket to being worth a billion dollars some day soon. Can't fault his motives.

Facebook understands that you want to own your social graph too. That's why they support API keys.

That's okay. You can both own it together. As long as nobody else does.

The evolving tension between open and closed is like a wave breaking onto shore. As long as Facebook keeps balancing third-party social networking applications in the sharecropper zone, it can keep surfing that wave. If, one day, it decides to give that stuff away for free and compete on some other basis, that decision will send shock waves through the industry, just like Google's paradigm of "disk and CPU and bandwidth are free".
Nov. 22nd, 2007 08:00 pm (UTC)
testing this one...
Very interesting... as always! Cheers from Switzerland.
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )