With more than 500 million active users and over 250 million users logging in on a daily basis through a variety of platforms including mobile devices, I think it is safe to say Facebook is now much more than just a website. If it were a country, Facebook would be the 3rd most populous in the world. It holds its own ground as the single most successful online social media platform in history and without delay it is moving closer into our everyday lives and beyond the web. Moreover, this “social network” isn’t just for college kids anymore. Companies throughout the world have embraced the power of Facebook and many companies live and die by their Facebook campaigns.
So, what can we make of all this commotion about the big blue 800-pound gorilla of the social web? Well, Facebook was never meant to be just a website, or just a collection of status updates or uploads of photos from last night. No, I think Facebook realized this from the first day they saw themselves as a viable product. As Tim O’Reilly stated, “For many people, [Facebook] is a replacement for the Web, the entire platform, the world in which they receive news, communicate with friends, play games, store and share photographs and videos, and use any one of hundreds of thousands of applications.” But what exactly makes this possible and where is such technology headed?
Originally there was Facebook Connect, which has morphed into Login with Facebook. This authentication system allows us to use our Facebook credentials as a login on millions of websites, such as Rotten Tomatoes, Bing, Scribd, CNN, Pandora, CBS.com, Yelp, YouTube, Xbox and other big names. This alone creates the potential of having a standardized identification system for the entire web that is linked to our true identity rather than a screen name.
Next we saw them launch the Open Graph Protocol, which enables us to integrate web pages into the social graph by installing the “like” button on external websites. This will probably be the single biggest player in Facebook’s presumed plan for world domination (insert evil laugh here), because it helps form an almost complete sense of who we are and what we like. Do you think advertisers would be interested in such data?
Oh, and I won’t even begin to discuss all the different ways we can connect with Facebook on mobile devices. Have you played any mobile games lately? Words with Friends anyone? In the gaming industry these days, if you’re not taking advantage of the social connections that already exist on Facebook, then you’re certainly losing business.
To contrast these new endeavors, let’s think back a few years. Before Facebook was a household name, whoever controlled the information on the internet theoretically controlled the internet itself. In that case, Google is still the king, because they dominate the search engine market. Facebook realized this and instead of competing with Google head-on, they are moving beyond information and operating in the realm of interaction. Sure, we still go to Google for facts and figures, but we now go to Facebook for socialization. We can only wonder what will be more valuable in the years to come, the data of the web or the social connections. I’m betting on the social side of things.
Whatever the case may be, Facebook is speeding towards an interesting future; one in which the entire social experience of real life is being placed online. In the months and years ahead we will almost always be connected in some way to Facebook, however abstract such a connection might be. The social graph is slowly surrounding us, one friend request and one “like” at a time. Whether or not we actually like this still up in the air, but for now we’ll click the “like” button anyway.