Showdown: Facebook versus the Internet

by Mathew on June 18, 2007 · 7 comments

“I come not to bury Facebook, but to praise it.” — loosely paraphrased from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar

There’s no question that Facebook is the hottest thing going in social networking right now, and the launch of the Facebook F8 Platform has made it even more important as a model of what is possible for such a network. At the same time, however, I think that there’s also a troubling element to the site, which is that Facebook is to some extent a walled garden. Dave Winer writes about it here, Jon Udell hints at it here, and so does Dabble DB co-founder Avi Bryant here. Others have also written about the same kinds of issues here, here and here.

social.jpgObviously Facebook isn’t a walled garden in the same sense that America Online was way back when, or Prodigy or Compuserve or any of those other services. In fact, the F8 Platform launch ties Facebook into all sorts of Web services such as Flickr quickly and easily, which is a great feature and one I have written about before and likely will again. And yet, the reason Facebook did this is so you will spend more and more time on Facebook, and that is less and less time you spend on the regular Internet. Why can’t I have all the same features that I get with Facebook but without having to log in and click here or there everytime I do something?

In a way, we already have many of the attributes of Facebook: we can provide status updates through Twitter, we can chat through email or comments or GTalk or MSN Messenger or whatever — instead of Facebook’s irritating “wall-to-wall” feature, where you get an email telling you someone sent you a message, then you have to click and login, then leave a message, then they get an email, etc. Why can’t I just get the damn message?

In a sense, those kinds of irritations are a symptom of the larger issue, I think. We — and by “we” I mean bloggers, etc. — have all sorts of plugins and widgets that let us integrate Flickr and the MyBlogLog social network app and Last.fm song preferences and so on, and otherwise connect with people. Why do we need Facebook? Is it that we need the protection of the “limited profile” and the “click to add friend” process? I don’t know the answer. I’m just asking.

Update:

In light of all the coverage that I and others have been giving iLike for signing up more than 3 million users for their Facebook app, it’s worth noting Paul Kedrosky’s words of caution on that front.

  • http://scrawledinwax.com Nav

    I think ‘we bloggers’ are a little annoyed by app integration in Facebook, as it’s almost like one has to maintain two separate online lives, linked loosely by widgets. However, Facebook does do a couple of things well: it provides a space for consolidation for people who don’t maintain a blog and have no desire to; and it also seems to be becoming like the Windows of the Internet. Although the diffuse nature of the ‘net is its greatest asset, it is also its most alienating: by providing a centralised, ‘neutral’ platform (I use the latter term loosely), Facebook opens access to things like Flickr, Twitter, Jaiku, last.fm etc. to those who would otherwise be completely intimidated by Web 2.0 and the blogosphere.

  • Lara

    Facebook is overrated. I really don’t understand why everyone is making such a big deal out of it. There’s nothing wrong with MySpace. All my friends use MySpace. The profiles are easy to create. Facebook doesn’t allow much room for creativity.

  • http://montrealtechwatch.com heri

    i am somehow irritated by facebook’s mail messages. but actually, i found out it’s a design choice, possibly made by the facebook founders from launch. by forcing you to go there, you actually find yourself checking your news feed and then see your friends profile or whatever new app they have. you can see by the way that they make it easy for you to leave a message, they don’t nag you with repeat screens and messages, no there is a nice ajax box which will instantly send the notification to your friend … then the circle begins again.

  • http://www.redflagdeals.com RyanRFD

    The interesting thing about Facebook is that it has added a layer of permanent personal identity to the Internet by forcing users to use their real identity. More impressively, they’ve created an environment where people are comfortable doing this.

    Now that they’ve opened up the F8 platform developers have access to a ready made collection of user identities and relationships unlike anything that has really existed before. So far we haven’t seen anyone do anything really interesting with this identity layer, but it’s only been a month.

    MOST people don’t want to create and maintain a blog, but with Facebook they are getting many of the benefits that have a centralized identity allow with the added privacy that the ‘walled garden’ provides. As Esther Dyson says in the article you linked to, we are creating our own walled gardens.

  • http://www.propr.ca Joseph Thornley

    Mathew,
    As I try to understand the relationship between Facebook and blogging, I come to the realization that SIMPLICITY is the operational factor.

    Blogging made authorship simple.

    Facebook makes connecting with friends simple.

    They complement one another – until the next great development: the open platform that brings the ease of associating with the people you want to OUTSIDE of the closed community.

    Just like Compuserve a generation ago…

  • http://www.redflagdeals.com RyanRFD

    Joseph,

    OpenID has that potential, but there are a lot of roadblocks in it’s way currently.

  • http://www.robhyndman.com/2007/03/25/newspapers-im-not-dead-yet-or-dead-men-walking/ Rob Hyndman

    I saw that post by Paul – good point – but I think it begs the real question, which is not what the value of the Facebook audience is to the platform developers, but what is the value to Facebook? Paul’s argument is that this is a here-today, gone-tomorrow crowd. Well, where will they be when the next new new thing comes along? Just how flighty is the audience? I’ve made this point tiresomely often with respect to Digg. Frankly, I think the jury’s still very much out on this question, in much of the social media world.

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