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Living Can Kill You

Succeeding against Facebook

Facebook managed avoid ghettoization as YASN this May when it opened its Web site to third-party applications. Essentially, Facebook answered the unasked question of what to do after everyone you once knew are in your network (and you realize you don’t have much in common with your classmates from kindergarten).

The cynical summary: blogging enabled everyone to easily create a Web page for their cats, and the Facebook platform allowed them to collect and share their own dancing hamsters.

Assuming Facebook can overcome some its scaling problems with its application framework, and more intellectual applications can bubble-up into the general popularity, the service might emerge as a second, safe Web. And that, as many have begun arguing, would also mean its a closed Web.

But ironically, it is that self-contained community, with its essentially egotistic focus, that has helped Facebook to thrive. The entire Facebook application platform is built around the concept of the user, and applications that reward users by:

  • telling friends something about the user,
  • telling users something about their friends,
  • and by encouraging interaction with a friend

are bound to succeed, especially when they viral.

Those that are actively virulet (like Zombies, whose whole point is to infect other people) may achieve an immediate boost; long-term, slow-burn applications (such as a Scrabble-like game) is likely going to be more effective in the long-run.

All this is a long-winded way of wondering about Google’s rumoured attempt to “out open” Facebook. By developing a whole new set of APIs allowing third parties to both push and pull data, into and out of Google and non-Google applications, they could potential create an environment in the public Web that negates the power of “self” within Facebook.

Google failed pretty badly with Orkut and Gmail is still a distant third Webmail service; but the API approach could put Google in the best position to succeed if Facebook’s popularity wanes.

The again, Google may just be floating the API approach as a back-up plan if its attempts to buy into Facebook fails, and Microsoft gets a piece of it.