The Future of Facebook

Facebook continues to make a series of evolutionary moves in recent months, rather than react to the news, let’s take a holistic look at where the company is headed.   I’ve given my perspective to SFGate, now but want to dive into details here.  I’ll give my perspective, but as we’ve seen time and time before, the real value is the collective contributions in the comments.  

Evolving to a platform –not just a social network
Facebook isn’t a social network, it’s really a communications platform –in fact, when you look closely, it’s not unlike an operating system on the web.  Early innovations such as the instant messaging tool,then the applications platform that allowed 3rd party developers (called F8, correction: Just Facebook Platform) aren’t unlike what Microsoft offers to consumers.  What separates them from others is the social news feed which aggregates what others in your network are doing.  

Unique culture fosters innovation
It’s important to examine the culture and leadership of a company as it’s a strong indicator of how they’ll behave.  Young, innovative, yet somewhat reserved leader Mark Zuckerberg continues to make choices that don’t always include what the community expects –or wants.  In my visits to their previous HQ, it was much like a dorm room: spray painted walls, fancy cafeteria.  However recently, they moved out of downtown Palo Alto (to the determent of local businesses) to a centralized location on California avenue in biotech row off Page Mill.  The employee base, and culture reflect all of this: the age of the untainted product teams indicate this –In my ripe old age of mid 30s, I’m clearly one of the oldest during my visits.

Recent moves indicate move towards real time.
Fast forward to summer 2009, and we’re starting to see some radical developments.  First with the acquisition of Friendfeed which is mainly a talent acquisition and early snatching of potentially the next Twitter competitor, who they were unable to acquire.  Now we’re seeing indicators that they’re gearing up for mobile, and other devices like gaming consoles with a Facebook lite version that is quickly delivers the basic for those that need to quickly find out what their community is doing and communicate back.   Lately, we’ve seen indicators they want to find ways to improve real-time search, which means they can help consumers make real time decisions. 

Awkward adolescence has its challenges
The continued innovation is spurred by the elusive business model —this awkwardness is a natural outcome of a company in growth.  I’ve heard a couple of times from various employees that they’re generating revenue (but there’s no official information available) yet I hear from brands that traditional advertising is ineffective.  Secondly, this constant innovation becomes a real burden on brands who have a difficult time understanding which tools to use and why, as well as 3rd party developers who are constantly rejiggering the changing API and Terms of Service. 

What to Expect in Facebook’s Future: A Web Based Operating System
So what’s in store for Facebook in the future?  Here’s what we should expect:

  • Aggregator of all.  To win, Facebook wants it’s network to spread to other locations, then aggregate back to it’s website.  This centralizes Facebook (which can be accessed anywhere from any digital medium) as the hub of communications.   As a result, consumers will make decisions based on information from peers in this hubs, and brands will pay money to be part of it.
  • A new class of competitors –beyond social networks.  In the end, Facebook is an aggregator of all information that’s important to an individual and their friends. Who currently does this?  Media darling Twitter does this, Friendfeed (hence the acquisition) and existing web email systems like Hotmail, Gmail, AOL, and Yahoo have shown indicators they’re thinking about heading this way.  
  • Content to be more public –yet members may resist.  The option to allow profiles to be public and the vanity URL landgrab are indicators that they want to make information more public –yet the challenge will be convincing members to opt-in.
  • Facebook.com as a destination isn’t as important.  To be successful, Facebook will need to spread to many websites (like corporate ones) and experiences, this is why Facebook Connect (authentication for 3rd parties) matters.  This Era of Social Colonization empowers the FB experience to spread to other websites.
  • Monetization engines to turn on.  The constant innovation of dozens of products are akin to ‘throwing pasta at the wall’ to see what sticks.  Facebook’s 250mm user base is nearing mainstream web portal (see traffic compared to Google and Yahoo) they’re quickly closing the gap.
  • No kingdom lasts forever.  We see this time and time again, technology companies supernova, grow then fail to innovate from political tape and sheer size.  

This is my take, yet it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the only opinion.  I hope to hear what you think holds in store for Facebook in the coming years, love to hear your comments.