I continue to be fascinated — as many are — by the growth of the Facebook “widget-o-sphere,” whether it’s a service such as iLike, which now has 3.8 million users (although how many of them are actually using it in any real sense is debatable), or one like Where I’ve Been, which is the latest to experience rocket-fueled growth that is pushing the developer’s resources to the point where he is begging for help. Buying up some of these small widgets seems like a great idea for someone to pursue.
But the bigger question is what happens to this proto-economy. It’s like watching a small former Soviet country suddenly adopt capitalism: no one really knows what they’re doing, and all of the rules are being re-invented in various ways, some of which work and some of which are doomed to fail. It’s not quite an economy yet, because no one is really making any actual money — but you can see the structure of what could become an economy being built. In an otherwise unremarkable Wall Street Journal piece about the widget-o-sphere, a Facebook executive mentions that the site is considering a “wallet” type of service that would allow sales transactions, or an ad network that would do rev-sharing with widgets.
The more cynical among us (you know who you are) will probably come to the conclusion that Mark Zuckerberg and the Facebook team are building their own growth on the backs of poor developers like the guys behind iLike.com and Where I’ve Been, and just waiting to snap them up and make them part of the mothership when they fail. And to some extent they are building growth using those widgets — but if they are smart, they know that what they are creating (or could be creating) is an economic framework.
Brad Feld has some thoughts about that on his blog, and Andrew Chen looks at some of the advertising possibilities. And as a bonus, here’s a video that Kara Swisher of AllThingsD and the WSJ recorded of herself badgering poor Mark after running into him at a local restaurant.