Friday, November 02, 2007

OpenSocial

I don't get it. The Valley is going nuts over OpenSocial. And yeah, it's cool. But not "checkmate" cool, as TechCrunch seems to think.

Yes open source is great. Yes platforms are greater. Look at what Wikipedia has done, harnessing the wisdom and intelligence of the masses - it's created what is probably the largest factual database in the history of mankind within only a few years.

But let's take a step back. Only a few months ago, Facebook's new platform was all the rage. Fast forward to today and, well, what's changed? I'm talking user experience. And when you boil it down, not much has. I don't have any stats, and maybe apps have revolutionized the Facebook experience for some small subset of users, but the core reason people log on to Facebook hasn't really changed.

And that's what Facebook is about. What the internet is about. People. You can make all the platforms you want, but it's very hard to change the way people operate.

People base their web behavior around killer apps. For example, Facebook's first killer app was basically dating/sex - a tool for checking out the fine (or ugly) guys or girls at your school. Then Facebook introduced pictures, which became a killer app for some. To a lesser extent, the news feed was a killer app, a reason to log on. Ditto with Walls and birthday reminders.

For the core of Facebook's users - that young, college-aged, 20s demographic - OpenSocial changes, well, nothing. Hell, I'm not sure I'll ever leave Facebook, if only because the vast majority of visual documentation of my 4 years at Penn (pictures) are on their servers.

But I digress. The point is that, so far, internet platforms (Facebook being the only example) haven't, on the whole, created killer apps. Who's to say OpenSocial will? And even if it does, will it steal traffic from Facebook?


(As an unrelated/related aside, writing this post got me thinking about the web and killer apps in general. Because, at it's core, that's what Web 2.0 is about - harnessing advancements in a variety of fields (everything from bandwidth speeds to "new" languages like AJAX) to create a new set of killer apps. But if platforms are unable to come up with this new set, how about the internet as a whole? This relays directly into what is, in my opinion, the question of the day: are we in a bubble?

And from this line of thinking, the answer is surprisingly clear and yet still fundamentally complex: if the current set of web companies can't succeed in developing new killer apps - websites that truly give us the ability to do things we could never do before (interactive virtual worlds, for example) and make those things worth doing (so maybe virtual worlds aren't an example:) - we're in trouble.

Maybe that's deep or maybe it's foolishly obvious, make of it what you will.)

(As a second aside, I thought I'd reference a post a wrote over the summer, when Facebook's platform was the big story. The post voices my thoughts on open platforms and suggests that maybe Google or Yahoo should launch one of their own (wait, did I predict OpenSocial?:). Specifically, I wonder if OpenSocial will take the structure outlined in the post or something else entirely.)

10 comments:

  1. Right on Ravi. I still subscribe to TechCrunch, but I have to take anything written by Mike Arrington with so much salt that it's not very palatable.

    The other writers are a little more grounded in reality.

    FB will be around and valuable for a long while, even after the digerati move on to the next shiny pretty thing.

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  2. Couldn't agree more... no one logs on to Facebook because of the apps -- they use apps because they are there on Facebook. The only people excited here are the techies and people sick of hearing Facebook news reports being splurged non stop on TechCrunch, Mashable, etc.

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