OK, you may have noticed I've developed a bit of a Facebook obsession over the last few weeks, but after Thursday's launch of Facebook Platform, I think it's justified – this marks the beginning of another massive change in the way we think about the internet.
From a lengthy Fortune article (as usual, worth reading in full):
Imagine that when you shopped online for a digital camera, you could see whether anyone you knew already owned it and ask them what they thought. Imagine that when you searched for a concert ticket you could learn if friends were headed to the same show. Or that you knew which sites – or what news stories – people you trust found useful and which they disliked. Or maybe you could find out where all your friends and relatives are, right now (at least those who want to be found).
This isn't fantasy. Facebook might make it possible, and soon. Yes, the social-networking site college kids spend so much time on – the one you thought was just about hooking up – could turn out to be more important than any of us thought.
In late May, the company's 23-year-old CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, got up in front of several hundred journalists, analysts, and industry leaders … to say that Facebook would no longer be just another social-networking site. Instead, he said, it aims to be the place where you can involve your friends in everything you do online. The company has 24 million members (less than half of whom are now in college), and it is adding about 150,000 a day. In effect, Facebook is now offering the opportunity for any company, Internet service, or software maker – anyone at all, really – to build services for its members.
In advance of the announcement, which had Silicon Valley buzzing, Zuckerberg and other executives spoke to Fortune about the strategy. "We want to make Facebook into something of an operating system so you can run full applications," Zuckerberg told me. He said Facebook is becoming a "platform," meaning a software environment where others can create their own services, much the way anyone can write programs for Microsoft's Windows operating system on PCs.
Zuckerberg sometimes lapses into jarringly grandiose language, for example when he told me that what Facebook is unveiling would be "the most powerful distribution mechanism that's been created in a generation."
Today, social networking is fragmented. There are networks for dating, for philanthropy, for pet owners, for parents. But each has its own ways for members to register, describe themselves, communicate, and interact. Facebook aims to make much of that unnecessary. It will provide the underlying services – a platform – and offer access to its prerecruited pool of members. It will retain some online real estate and will still generate the lion's share of its revenue from advertising.
Liz Gannes, who was at the Facebook launch, also clarifies something important:
Zuckerberg says you can serve ads on your app pages and keep all the revenue, sell them yourselves or use a network, and process transactions within the site, keeping all the revenue without diverting users off Facebook.
And, as Michael Arrington points out:
there is also a crucial viral component – when a friend adds an application, it is noted in their news stream on their profile. Clicking on the item brings you to the app, where you can add and/or interact with it yourself.
Advertising Age also has a good article covering off what Facebook Platform might mean for advertisers.
Anyway, that's probably enough for now. I'm off to play Red Bull Roshambull.
Update: There are a few naysayers out there – have a quick read of Facebook's new platform: No guarantees.
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