Facebook is not the new AOL

First Scott Heiferman and then Jason Kottke tried to tamp down the yeasty enthusiasm for Facebook’s platform by making comparisons with AOL, arguing that this was just another closed network. (Heiferman has since said that he has changed his thinking but he doesn’t have time to explain how. Damn. Kottke has amplified his thinking here. )

They hhavead a good and interesting argument, but after thinking about this a lot, I’ve come to disagree — because the two services are closed for different reasons: AOL was closed to give AOL control over us and our money. Facebook is closed to give us control over our identities and communities. AOL tried to “own” — their language back then — our relationship with them. Facebook enables us own our relationships with our friends. Kottke complains that my stuff on Facebook is not searchable on Google, but I think that’s the point; I should decide what I want to be searchable and findable to the world instead of just my friends. Yes, it’s closed, but I get to build the walls this time.

I’ve also argued, agreeing with these gentlemen, that Facebook needs to be more open if, indeed, it intends to become the Google of people. It needs to let me export and open to the world more of my faces. It needs to let me import more of my identity from elsewhere on the internet. It needs to help me organize and present that better. Will it do all that? I have no idea. The platform, I think, is a first step. It’s the next steps that matter.

  • I think that you’re right in that it’s not exactly comparable to AOL, but in general – the thing about not opening up is something that in the end (as people use more and more services online) I think that this will have a real, serious negative impact on facebook..

    For me, all content that I provide on facebook I constantly need to publish on other sources as well – in order to get it to my other online communities. Say it would be completely open – then I would be much more eager to publish only on facebook and then just link to it from all other places.

  • Jeff, I’ve been reading your blog for some time, but this is my first comment. I love the idea of being able to decide which parts of our personal world get shared with who on the ‘net. I had never thought of it quite that way before. Maybe I should give Facebook more consideration….xoxoxo JohnOnSales

  • Jeff, you said
    It needs to let me export and open to the world more of my faces. It needs to let me import more of my identity from elsewhere on the internet. It needs to help me organize and present that better.
    Would you expand on that.
    I’ve the Flog application to show updated snippets from my blog, flickr photo’s,contact details etc etc on my Facebook and haven’t yet checked out all the applications on Facebook.At present I’m happy with what’s available.

  • Social networks are infrastructure for the social applications built on top of them. With Flickr, it’s about photos, with last.fm, it’s music, with my product – Socialight – it’s the places you go. Facebook began as a way to communicate directly with with people at your school and has grown to be much more than that. They – intelligently – have realized that it’s more powerful to own the platform than the applications.

    In my opinion, the ideal social network “platform” would be a trusted, open one that no single company owns or controls. However, since no one’s been able to accomplish that yet (not for a lack of trying) and Facebook already has a critical mass of users, it’s the next best thing. I’ll come down on the “is it like AOL?” argument in the middle, though. It’s like a more open web2.0-y AOL. Unlike on AOL, anyone can build an application (and thus a business) on Facebook, but Facebook still controls the experience and you’ve got to pay the toll – through granting access to your users’ valuable actions and eyeballs – to play.

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  • Marc

    I have been making the case for Facebook being like AOL for months in the comments of various blogs. Since you don’t agree and are under the influence, I won’t bother expounding. Looks like a few prominent bloggers must have agreed with me.

  • When are people going to finally figure out that granular privacy is the greatest thing to ever happen on the Internet? I can have a “real” identity online as well as control my image to a great degree. I present one persona to my grandmother with a computer via facebook, but a completely different persona to my friends…just like I would in real life.

    The platform does all this and if it doesn’t it will through harnessing the long tail. Facebook can now work on what really matters to them: getting their users to actually click an advert.

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