I often write about Facebook because their site offers me great service at an excellent price point. The formula of a well designed social network + free has been a winning combination for several years. But, why use Facebook as opposed to the MySpace's and Friendster's of the world. A lot of people have their own conceptions on what the points of contention are:
- Privacy controls
- Bundled features
Those are our strawmen. Privacy can't be a major issue because, fundamentally, we're dealing with social networks. The point is to share information. Aesthetics, too, is a demonstrated non-issue with the success of MySpace. And bundled features are another way of saying, "making it easy to be verbose."
It has and will always be about openness. There has always been a thread of equiveillance and transparent society in my posts. This one is no different. Facebook is interesting because they're a gated community whose original residents didn't pay the bills. The company responded with the only reasonable action: they changed their standards and started accepting a more varied clientele.
But, if I don't have a MySpace account, I can still enjoy stalking the occasional profile or check in on what passes for music these days. If I didn't have a Facebook account, I couldn't do either of these. So - unsurprisingly, when I try to look at hotter pictures on MySpace, I am sorely tempted to sign-up for another account. And given several grillion more people use MySpace than Facebook, even with (arguably) equal feature parity, something must be going on. Perhaps the network effect?
I'm making hyperbole, since most of my friends switched to Jabber or use Google Talk. But, the effect is not so significant as purported by so many other pundits. No single social network software will be the king. Just like we have specialized circles of friends in reality, we'll have them on the Internet. Facebook hit a sweet spot by offering features for procrastinators. LiveJournal hit a sweet spot by offering features for overly verbose emo-kids. MySpace hit a sweet spot by offering features for child molesters. Each of these sites are tuned for their audiences - but business requires growth! And once you reach near 100% adoption in a demographic, you take your toys and aim for another.
Each of these sites are ran by Smart People - far more intelligent and hard working than me. But, strangely, none of them believe in cannibalizing their own business. That's understandable; because, I too could grow used to swimming in phat stacks of cash money. However, the business model of growing pains in the Winner Takes All view of social networking itself won't scale. Instead, you have to go meta. Technologies like People Aggregator try to decentralize the problem - and they happen to do it pretty badly. Hint - hint.
The sites, software and technologies of Web 2.0 are the IBMs and mainframes of the 1980s. What is even weirder is they're proud of it! Somewhere along the way, they confused managed web services with managed computing. The rise of the web browser as dominant interface doesn't mean the instinct for people to own and control their computing has disappeared. It just means no one has built one-click installers for websites. Poor Microsoft has completely forgotten their roots and are trying to compete with Web 2.0 on its own turf.
Opportunistic readers will go make a grillion dollars with the preceding paragraph.
I argue that openness is the main factor of social networking success. Another data point is the sudden popularity of Twitter. They have made a service out of openness. Ignore the fit inducing "micro-blogging" rhetoric - status messages are nothing new. But, easy access to them has never been possible. If you like schadenfreude like me, watch Facebook miss the point with their newly rolled out status updates. As a bonus, watch Twitter die in the next year or so - a feature isn't a business.