I have spent this weekend in awe of — and devoting too many hours to — Facebook.
I joined sometime ago, as soon as I got an .edu address at CUNY, back when that was still required. But it was a lonely and pathetic existence, reminding me all too much of freshman mixers at my then-men’s college. I had no Facebook friends. It was all the worse because I wanted to explore the phenom of Facebook and couldn’t without links to people. It’s a people place. I wanted to stand on a virtual campus corner with sad and wide eyes asking whether anyone would be my friend. But that would have gotten me arrested.
Then Facebook opened up to the rest of us. And last week, it announced its platform, which seems to have caused lots of people to suddenly dive in (at least in my geek/capitalist/media circles).
So I asked appropriate people — that is, people I actually know — in my address book to be my friend, which for some reason on Facebook seems to feel less like human spam than on LinkedIn. And then as people agreed to be my friend — they like me, they really like me — I found connections to more friends. And a few people I don’t know befriended me. In a little over 24 hours, I had 187 friends.
What’s significant about that is not that I’m so popular but that Facebook is. This demonstrates clearly that those 187 people are as addicted to the service as I’ve quickly become. They were online using it on a holiday weekend and responded instantly. I’ve never seen anything like it. Of course, there’s nothing new in this; people have been amazed at Facebook since it started. It’s just that I finally get to join the in crowd.
What is new is the platform and its is quickly proving to be remarkable as well. As I said yesterday, my son, Jake, has created a few applications and the response has been impressive: As of lunchtime Monday, 6,500 people were using his Last.fm ap and because it’s not yet on the approved list, that means it grew strictly from being on TechCrunch — no small promotion — and then virally. Interesting to watch the reaction of the two companies he apped. LastFM users were impatient that they didn’t have an ap so they started using Jake’s, gratefully. Then along came LastFM the company and they were nice but asked him to take off their logo. Meebo, on the other hand, was nicer; they said they’d promote his ap. Which one passes the 2.0 test? Meebo, I’d say. The more your users use you — the more you are an API — the better. Then a few other companies and even two VCs contacted him to ask for help or just to compliment him, which is all very cool. (/dad bragging)
And no wonder there’s such interest: Facebook becomes a platform for viral distribution of actions. I can think of a dozen companies that out there that out to be doing three dozen things here, and I’ve emailed a few of them. Keep in mind that this isn’t just about putting some damned widget on a page, it’s about interacting with the content and the person behind it in more than one way: You can put content on my page for me and my friends, but that’s just the starting point. Or you can use what I’ve said about myself on my page to serve me better. Or you can interact with other applications in smarter ways. Or you can expose the action around my page to say more about the people here. If your ap’s any good, thousands will use it. If not, no one will.
As impressed as I am with the platform, I still wish it were more open. I want to combine my presence on Facebook with my presences on my blog, del.icio.us, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, iTunes, Daylife, Amazon, eBay, and lots of other places — that is beginning on the platform — but I also want them to interact with each other and with my friends’ presences in those places to see what surprises result. Maybe I start to see that my friends are buying the same books. Or I put together a Twitter group for an event. Or I find that my blog readers who are in my same group are going to the same event.
It’s said that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has a vision for his service to become the social operating system of the web, the Google of people. Mark talks about bringing communities elegant organization. I say the internet already is a community of communities and there’s a winning strategy in bringing it elegant organization. But that’s different from making everyone come to you and join your service behind your closed walls. Granted, those closed walls have an advantage when it comes to people: I’m not friends with the world, only those I say are my friends (and only if they agree). But I need to be in charge of my identity and my relationships. Facebook started down that road. But it hasn’t yet arrived. At Davos, I heard Zuckerberg tell a big-time newspaper publisher that he couldn’t build a community; he had to serve a community that is already there and bring it, again, elegant organization. One more time: The internet is that community.
This also has big implications for publishers, portals, governments, and companies that interact directly with customers. This is about more than “widgetizing” your content in hopes people will publish it on their pages — though that’s a smart strategy as far as it goes. I’m writing about this in my Guardian column this week, which I’ll put up soon. It’s also about going to people instead of expecting them to come to you. And it’s about thinking beyond content to functionality: How can you turn yourself into an API? Shouldn’t news be something we use in new ways?
I’ve only begun to get my head around the possibilities of the Facebook platform — and I think that Facebook has only begun to open it up. This points to a new architecture to the web, an architecture built around people instead of content, the public instead of the companies. It’ll be exciting to watch and I’m glad I’m finally on the inside to watch it.
: LATER: Mediapost reports on Washington Post and Slate’s political applications on the Facebook platform. (I just tried to add one of them but high use overloaded the Post’s servers.)