May 28

Tim O'Reilly

Tim O'Reilly

Facebook is the Microsoft Office of Social Apps

So claims Paul Kedrosky, saying:

In other words, none of the apps are particularly good -- photo sharing, status updates, personal pages, events, groups, etc. -- let alone being as good as their standalone counterparts -- Flickr, Twittr, Typepad/Wordpress, Google Group, etc. -- but most people don't care. They just want their social software all in one place, all from the same interface, and then they want to move on and get their (social/presence) work done.

It's easy to dismiss this comment as facile and slightly mean. But I think Paul is onto something, especially when, as he notes, Facebook is moving smartly to create a platform layer to tie all these applications together.

A while back, Marc Hedlund wrote a piece about Web 2.0 companies as reinventions of Unix apps. There's a similar exercise to be done for Windows apps (including the parallels between Marc's own Wesabe and Quicken or Money). Your thoughts?

tags: web 2.0  | comments: 17   | Sphere It

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Comments: 17

  Michael Sparks [05.28.07 10:18 AM]

Actually, I don't think that's the strength of facebook *at all*. Yes, it's nice to have photos and notes (blogs), and status updates (a bit twitter like, but not really), and a toolbar, but that's not really the strength.

The real strength is its ability to create privacy and see what's actually going on in your social circle.

Anyone who's tried searching about me will find a limited amount of general information, largely from a professional context, but very little beyond that. Part of the reason for that is because I've been online for 15 years now in various different forums when pseudonymity was common, and I'll habitually keep track of what identity I'm using releases what information.

After all, there's things I'll say in a non-logged system, than I would say in a logged on.

Facebook actually supports this sort of mode of handling your identity, but does so in a relatively seamless kind of way. You can add me as a friend, but I get to choose what you can see. If I know you (face to face) I'll probably grant access to my facebook notes, but amongst them there's really personal things. Things that really are private. For other people, this control of information relates to photos & photo albums.

The ability to create closed & private (invisible) groups which can hold photos & comments & discussions furthers the ability for privacy.

As a result, if you have something you want to discuss with all your friends, but what to maintain privacy facebook supports that. Be it photos, group discussions, blogging, etc.

It's more seamless than you might realise too. If you're my friend, you can see what someone is saying to me. But you can't see what I'm saying to them, unless you're their friend. If you are, you learn more about who I am than you'll ever learn from a web search. It really does (in my experience) encourage the aspect "the friend of my friend becomes my friend").

I'd been hoping that they would realise that this is a strength and add on extra applications, and the recent upgrades to their platform are making this more seamless. There's still some way to go - for example being able to have multiple profiles and limit arbitrary resources to either specific groups (either based on current membership or adaptive membership).

I wouldn't've joined, except people I was in a show with all mentioned they were going to facebook their pictures.

And *that's* the power of facebook. They don't want to publish everything. We want to publish to our friends. It might be pictures, notes, status, videos, etc.

I don't use flickr - I'm not interested in random publishing of my photos. Twittr strikes me as pointless - I'm not interested in telling the world my status. Livejournal (for personal life blogging) similarly - my personal life is personal - I don't want to publish it to the world. Don't get me wrong, they're all extremely good for what they are, but they're not what I want.

However, I use *all* the "equivalent" features in facebook.

Facebook is most emphatically NOT the Web 2.0 Microsoft Office (IMHO) :) . It's the Web 2.0 version of the Unix File System, but with tag based access, and privacy, and collection of simple applications loosely joined on top.

  Elke Sisco [05.28.07 10:47 AM]

> They just want their social software all in one place.

I would certainly like one-stop shopping. Actually, I just had this very same conversation with friends a couple of nights ago. We talked about Twitter and other services, and all rolled our eyes at yet one more place you need to go to keep track of a subset of your friends. *sigh*

  Michael R. Bernstein [05.28.07 12:06 PM]

The observation is astute, but I don't think it is particularly interesting or relevant unless the folks at Facebook think of themselves this way.

Who is the OpenDoc of SNS? Who will be the OpenOffic of SNS? For that matter, who was the MS Office of 'portals' a few years ago? Does it matter?

Regardless of the fact that Facebook is riding high at the moment, the environment is changing too quickly to ascribe to them the sort of lock-in implied.

Because, not too long ago, LiveJournal probably would have fit this same description to a T.

We're probably only one or two hype cycles away from a common way of federating SNS information or at least a common import-export format. I'd expect it to show up first in some white-label SNS platform (it may have already).

  Tim O'Reilly [05.28.07 01:36 PM]

Great observations, Michael Sparks. OK if I run them as a standalone entry?

  Michael Sparks [05.28.07 01:43 PM]

Tim, feel free to use my comments any way you wish - glad you find them useful :-)

  Kelly Sutton [05.28.07 02:12 PM]

As a current college student and someone who lives on Facebook, this upgrade is--as always--monumental and the first topic of conversation among friends. With that said, two observations I have:

1) There will be growing pains. Many students rushed out and installed seemingly every application possible, only to "MySpace" their Facebook page. (To get a sense of how regular Facebook users view MySpace, I recommend Michael Arrington's article over at TechCrunch.) Not every application will be used, although no applications may be useful. Those applications that already overlap Facebook's current feature set, like Twitter, will probably disappear in the coming months.

2) This article and Michael Sparks's comment made me raise my own eyebrow. Although Microsoft-Facebook "good enough" comparison holds some merit, what's more astounding is that Facebook really has created the next generation OS. Already you can see, those that don't play nice with Facebook (Microsoft) will have no platform and no user base.

Facebook has been able to do this because of an already large and eager user base. My generation loves new gadgets, especially if those gadgets distract us from actual work. =]

I predict (on a limb) that any future web application will need some Facebook integration capabilities to survive the same way most common pieces of software need to run on Windows.

I hope I'm near the mark.

  Jamie [05.28.07 02:29 PM]

Im not quite sure that Facebook apps are substandard. Sure, the feature set is more limited than the examples cited in the other blog, but Facebooks are incredibly honed around the network aspect.

For instance, you can get a feed or Recently Tagged Friends, Photos of Me,

The tagging isnt arbitrary, but based on connections already made with friends. It is quite powerful, and allows nice touches such as 'Show Photos of You and X', where X is whoevers profile you are currently viewing.

And now with the Facebook Platform you have companies who can extend the functionality of Facebooks own apps. Take Piknik for example, which gives photo editing and enhancing controls directly within the Facebook interface.

  Kin Lane [05.28.07 09:53 PM]

Kind of makes sense....though I really don't think we are going to replace Microsoft Office as we know it. Though I agree Facebook is growing into a tremendous platform.

I think the perfect business or office suite that is fully web-enabled is going to work and act quite differently than the traditional Microsoft Office suite that we know.Think that is the problem with everyones comparison.

Already I use Google more than I use office, but it is because there are many other tools available beyond the classic Word Processor, Spreadsheet, Email, Database, etc.

  Tim O'Reilly [05.29.07 05:03 AM]

Kin, I don't think that the point of Paul's analogy was that Facebook wanted to play in the office apps game -- just that they are using the office *strategy*, in which integration across apps beat the best standalone apps of the day (i.e. Lotus 1-2-3 and Wordperfect.) The platform beats the application. Paul was arguing that Facebook is setting out to do this in the realm of social networking.

Jamie -- I agree, and perhaps Paul overstated the case there. Word and Excel weren't substandard either. But they weren't *better* either. It was the whole suite that was better.

  Chris Rindone [05.29.07 10:52 AM]

I think the Office analogy works. In building Facebook, its creators recognized the importance of tight, seamless integration - something that Yahoo missed. Think about it: If all of Yahoo's properties had the kind of tight integration that the Office platform has, and they'd added the social component while the iron was hot, would they not be the 8,000 pound gorilla in the social space?

Facebook has a loyal user base, who use the network frequently, and who are more sophisticated and "connected" than MySpace users. Opening up their platform with a strategy that assures compatibility and integration was nothing short of brilliant!

  jonah [05.29.07 03:45 PM]

Groups, photos, events exist in all of the social networks. Take a look at Myspace.

The difference between Facebook and the others is that Facebook offers pseudo-privacy, a "closed garden." Where you can post pictures etc. that are only semi-public, and which uses your natural offline affinity groups (college, high school, etc).

That said, Facebook is way behind in terms of implementing actual Web 2.0 features and design. It looks like a 1999 website.

  jessica [05.29.07 04:18 PM]

Personnally, I celebrate the fact that Facebook hasn't followed in MySpace's footsteps and added the ability for users to design their pages any which way. I cringe half the time when I open a Myspace page.

I agree that the privacy additions that Facebook have added to their application have been a important reason for their success, especially with the negative press that has been circulating about company's using the internet to unqualify applicants.

I however disagree with your statement that Facebook has not implemented actual Web 2.0 features. Everything that can be posted can be commented on. There isn't as much "rating" going on in the space but from friends you would rather read comments instead of a rating. A rating system is better for categorizing important information instead of in the social relm.

  Antonio Bonanno [05.30.07 09:33 AM]

Jonah, Facebook is by all means a Web2.0 website, especially if compared to its most direct and always-upcalled competitor, MySpace. It implements AJAX (MySpace doesn't, or am I missing something?), it's fast, easy, reliable, it launched an API, etc...

I think what we see here, in addition to the privacy features pointed out by Michael Sparks, Jonah and others, is a different strategic approach to new features: FaceBook's platform, aimed to giving 3rd party developers the tools to develop their own applications to be used in FaceBook; MySpace is acquiring different sorts of companies in order to have those build applications for them, keeping then closed the doors of 3rd party developments of the site.

That said, MySpace and FaceBook are and will be very different websites for their very nature. I don't think their users are interexchangable: mainly I think there will be a big chunk of MySpace users never turning to FaceBook because of its looks and the (relative) complexity (in terms of features, not in terms of use: MySpace UI is really something 1999). And FaceBook users will not won't to get (back?) to MySpace, which misses most of the features that make FaceBook such a better choice for them (first of them being privacy).

To sum up all this blabbing in a simpler and more straight statement, I would say: MySpace will stay for blogstars, FaceBook will be for social networkers.

  Michael R. Bernstein [05.30.07 10:52 PM]

"integration across apps beat the best standalone apps of the day"

This is of course true, but "better together" doesn't mean that apps have to come from the same vendor, or that the vendor is responsible for the integration. Facebook isn't making this mistake, exactly, but the integrated apps must be written specifically for Facebook. This doesn't make Facebook into 'Office', it casts it as 'Windows'.

This trend is, at most, going to be a temporary blip (which I am sure will be very profitable for a while), but 'your choice of silo' really isn't good enough.

  Mairead [05.31.07 08:50 AM]

There's something very unhealthy about talking about "privacy" while freely handing over massive amounts of personal information to a faceless, utterly self-interested corporation. On what planet can that possibly be construed as having anything positive to do with privacy!?!

  Michael R. Bernstein [05.31.07 11:29 AM]

Upon reflection, 'Windows' isn't right either. 'Photoshop' is probably the right analogy.

  jessica [05.31.07 10:37 PM]

I haven't quite gotten trackbacks to work yet but I've responded to the earlier comments and added in my own opinion on my own blog especially in regards to Mairead's comment. My blog can be accessed by clicking on "jessica". I would love to hear your feedback on the post.

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