…and I don’t mean World of Warcraft.
Facebook has Won
I recently posted a comment on Jim Keenan’s post about Google Me to the effect that Facebook has too much going for it in social networking for Google Me to have any real impact at this stage in the game: 1) Facebook has too many users and too much inertia, 2) Facebook is a latecomer to the social networking game.
The first is an obvious advantage, but the second requires a bit of explanation. Being a latecomer, Facebook faced an audience that had already been gradually educated about what a social networking site was, and was feeling the pain of poor implementations. In my personal experience, different “generations” of netizens used different services – LiveJournal: rudimentary networking, somewhat byzantine user interface; Xanga: user interface improves a bit, networking still clunky; MySpace: User interface remains about on-par with Xanga (worse, in my opinion), but networking becomes ridiculously easy…so easy that it would become detrimental to the user experience.
Then Facebook swooped in and not only avoided all of the problems of the previous generations of social networking sites, but also added significant features like privacy and a beautiful content publishing platform. Along the way, Facebook picked up another feature – all of our friends and family. Facebook’s value as a networked good is now too immense a force to halt by a newcomer to the social networking. It would be like fighting the tide. Facebook is to social networking as World of Warcraft is to the MMORPG, just as Google is to search; they were 2nd or third iterations of the same concept, and they are clearly the leaders at this junction and likely to ride on their success indefinitely. That is, until game changes.
Facebook has Won…This Game
What will happen eventually is that the rules will change. Facebook helps us connect. Any other service seeking the same goal will be crushed by Facebook.
But Facebook’s model is a demand-pull model – only if we want mutually to become friends will we become friends. It makes the world smaller, true, because you are connected to your friends through digitally tangible relationships. But the world is about to become quite a bit smaller. In fact, it recently shrunk by several orders of magnitude, and it’s going to keep getting smaller. How? Two trends:
One: A game. A platform for exhibitionists. A random, trivial site, the product of a 17 year old’s fancy. I am, of course, speaking of ChatRoulette. ChatRoulette exploded in popularity, but after a few months, the hype died down and everyone forgot about it. But ChatRoulette did something daring. It goes way beyond just your friends or family; ChatRoulette opens up an entire world of people to you. It just happens to do it one bare-naked, semi-erect, pasty-white cock at a time.
Which leads us to our second trend.
Two: The internet knows more about you than you know about yourself. Almost everyone has a presence somewhere online, and everyone online, consciously or not, is building a brand for themselves. Everything you buy online is another record of who you are. Furthermore, your usage patterns, even if technically anonymized, can still identify you, and that’s before you factor in browser session data. Your intellectual fingerprint, your personality, is online. In some way, shape, or form, you have left your print on the world wide web.
Privacy is an illusion. A comfortable illusion, but one that people still grasp onto.
But we still haven’t gotten to the meat of the trend. Sites like Hunch and OKCupid also have users entering data about themselves to find matches – matching goods, matching services, matching partners. Matches today are so-so. Matches tomorrow? Better. The day after that? A little better. And so on and so forth. It might never be perfect, but considering the sheer amount of data available about you on the internet and the rate at which that mountain of data grows, it won’t be long until it’s close.
The internet of tomorrow will not only know what you like now…it will know what you will like. The internet of tomorrow will run on Suggestion Networking – an intelligent, well-filtered, supply-pushed internet where the rest of the world (that is only the right parts of the world) will simply fall into step with you.
The Game Changer
So where does this bring us to with regards to Facebook and Google Me? Facebook has won the social networking game. Google must change the game or fail, as it has with Orkut, with Wave, and with Buzz.
Frankly, there’s a lot working against it – Facebook is a behemoth in the existing market, and judging by the backlash against Facebook for privacy violations, the populace at large probably isn’t ready for the next wave, placing Google in an increasingly thin margin in which to operate. And even if they do capitalize on the next wave, they would have the first mover disadvantage – that’s right, disadvantage – in that they’d have to expend time and effort to educate users about how to use this new networking tool. They would also be making the first, and the largest, mistakes. Newcomers to the Suggestion Networking game would be quick to capitalize on any shortcomings.
Either way, the game is changing.