Monday, April 21

Facebook: destined for obscurity?

Everywhere and nowhere (Economist)

Although I love Facebook, and have always felt that they offer the premier online social networking tool, my gut tells me that as a company they may very well fail. Part of the reason is that they are a one-trick pony: They do one thing, and they do it really well. But what's the likelihood that in ten years (or five even), they will still be the dominant player in the social networking arena? Contrast that with Google, who is still king of online searching, but at the same time seems to be releasing a new product every other week in an attempt to diversify their offerings.

This very smart Economist article adds some meat to my argument. It asserts that closed social networking tools (like Facebook), which force you to visit their website and use their specific tools to communicate with your friends, are "a drag" and will ultimately lose out to "open social networks." These open networks would be integrated into your core Internet tools (such as e-mail), would infer your "social graph" from the actions you already take (who you e-mail the most, or how you tag people in your address book), and would be transparent and work almost automatically. In short, they would remove the annoying and needless complexity of managing your online social life (your profile, photos, groups, friend lists, etc.) through mulitple websites.

There are already existing tools (such as FriendFeed) which can aggregate your online life into one space, but these tools do nothing to break down the barriers between the various closed social networks. Something more revolutionary is needed, and I have no doubt that it is technologically feasible.

The only question is: Who will be the one to innovate, and who will fold as a result?

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