Facebook is the next Google (unless they mess up.)

It’s a recursive old world we live in these days, in which ideas are put up on one blog only to be refined and realized by the next several blogs. I’ve been giving a building community talk that is starting to do what I want it to, i.e. connect theory and practice, and Josh Porter’s slides on slideshare had influenced my thinking. Now he reports on my talk, moving the ideas forward further still.

Different views of self We expose different views of self. Our home self, our work self, and services each represent a different view into our lives, different relationships, different interests. Our Facebook profile, for example, shows a different window on us than our LinkedIn profile does.

Interesting question: if all of our online profiles were added together, would it be representative of the *real* us?

(this is a very pertinent question given the recent claims that Facebook is trying to map *the* social graph…it’s not clear at all that anybody but a single individual knows the extent of their own social network….)

This reminds me I have not been a good girl and reported on one of the two things I found more revelatory at Graphing Social. Facebook is the next Google (unless they mess up.) When I saw them speak, I was really surprised at their point of view. They are obsessively driven to map the social graph. Your goal very much defines you as a company. Corporate missions are often doublespeak, but if you can take a mission and boil it down a sentence, like “making the world’s information findable and useful” then you can create a collective mindset that will move the needle. It must be big enough to be aspirational, small enough to make progress toward.

If Facebook’s mission is to map the social graph, they will have a data asset that they can monetize. They do not need to worry about missed opportunities enjoyed by the application makers, they don’t have to worry about an unclear ad business. Or at least, they shouldn’t (and their valuation certain suggests it’s a non-issue.) They will own a core piece of data that is so useful and more important, so novel that their business model should make itself visible as the Social Graph gets built. They are waiting for their adsense. Maybe, like Google, they’ll spot a company doing it half-right and because they understand the social graph they can connect the dots. Or maybe once they understand how people connect, a new model will become obvious.

Perhaps there is a very obvious 1:1 relationship between Facebook and Google simply in they are both mappers. What’s left then, to map out? It would be a good thing for a start-up to know.

I said one of two things… the second is not so big, but still very interesting. This new generation of developers are radically more user centered than any of those before. Slide, RockYou, and others hammered home over and over in their talks the value of both user testing and A/B testing. I know many larger corporations that can’t manage to do qualitative and quantitative research affectively, and here are these tiny companies launching products in a handful of days, and they manage to squeeze it in. As Porter (Michael, not Josh) says, “What gets measured, gets managed.” These kids have their eyes clearly on the end goal, and know how to get there: through the good auspices of their users.


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  1. 1

    My position is that Facebook is the next AOL. Facebook will enjoy huge success for a few years. They’ll go public and cherish their apparent “lock” on people’s social connections. A few years later, when the open “Web OS” becomes the best platform choice for social graph-ing, everyone will say, “Well of course a closed, proprietary system wasn’t going to win against an open system”.

  2. 2
    dave mcclure

    @christina: agreed on the benefits of A/B testing & metrics… spot on.

    @frank: yeah, you’re right — the proprietary system strategy hasn’t really worked out very well for Microsoft over the past 15 years, has it? 😉

    imho: an “open” Web OS will be *better* for users if the features are better, but it has little to do with whether it’s “open” or “proprietary”. Google, Yahoo, MSFT, & others had the last 3-4 years to do something significant, and they have completely squandered the opportunity. Facebook comes out of nowhere & offers an innovative & revolutionary platform, and your response is to criticize their lack of openness. hmm. forgive me if i think your criticism is misplaced.

    market competition is usually a much better provider for consumer benefit than any “open standards” proposed by laggards.

    while i agree there are benefits to social network portability, Facebook is the company that’s been leading the charge on providing new features & innovation for the benefit of both developers & users.

  3. 3

    Dave, my comment was not a criticism of Facebook’s lack of openness, their team, or the awesome things they’ve done. Relatively speaking, they are absolutely leading the charge in the space of social platforms. I am a daily FB user and think they will do very well. They might even get the 15 years of monopoly that MS has enjoyed. Ask yourself, is that what you want? hmmm… That said, I wouldn’t pass up a chance to buy a few pre-IPO shares right now 😉

    So here’s what I was trying to say. The Web OS will get better over time. IMHO an individual’s social graph is just too fundamental for one company to own. If you think about it, it’s also not really a very complicated structure to describe in a distributed “loosely-joined” model.

    My short-term money is on FB. Long-term money is on a non-proprietary social graph.

  4. 4

    Great presentation! Love the slides but it would be absolutely fantastic to hear the audio for the presentation. Is there a podcast available or would you consider uploading a mp3 of the talk Christina? I’m really interested in filling in the gaps from the slides.

  5. 6

    Techcrunch reports on a response from Google, which would involve opening up Orkut initially in early november. If google goes the way described in the article, the facebook platform will look much weaker than the open platform being envisaged at google.

  6. 7
    John Beckwith

    Facebook can be the next Google, but only if they can control their members.

    Employing an ad network centered around user profile information is a much harder propositon than Google’s ad network. You type in a search term on Google and it’s pretty clear what you are interested in and you are served the appropriate ads. It’s very one to one.

    Guaging what ad to serve based on user profile data is tricky because people tend to idealize themselves on social network sites. If you’ve ever fudged your age, education level, or income you know what I mean. Unfortunately, those are very important factors in the demographics advertisers look at. Altering your age, education, or income can put you in a totally different demo thereby skewing the ads you see. Advertisers don’t like this.

    The solution is to exert as much control over user’s profiles such that they are completely honest about themselves. As Facebook attracts more and more of the MySpace crowd (i.e. a younger audience) they’re going to run in to trouble. There is already some pushback from members who percieve Facebook as being too contstricted.

    Facebook has a big decision to make. Either they continue to alienate many of their users and risk losing them or loosen up their contsraints on users and risk advertising dollars.

  7. 8
    Christopher Fahey

    What does “mapping the social graph” mean? Isn’t the real trick to “do stuff with the data”? Where “data” is a simple way of saying “the social graph” (which is, in turn, a fancy way of saying “the social network”).

  8. 9
    Nicholas Grobler

    Hi Christina

    I thoroughly enjoy your insights and knowledge. I am very passionate about the whole concept of a catalytic community. I believe that the only way to make a community work is to be a catalyst. Facebook went and did this on a global and very impressive scale. The next Google…well I dono about that…but an interesting point. Thanks for sharing and I hope to learn more…

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