Facebook's big changes could mean new future for social apps

Posted September 26, 2011

— At Facebook’s yearly “f8” event last week, Facebook Founder Mark Zuckerberg announced dramatic platform changes for the world’s largest social network.

Zuckerberg’s keynote at the company’s developer conference has brought news of hugely influential updates in the past, and the latest unveiling ranks near the top in terms of significance. These new features promise to markedly transform both the aesthetics and functionality of the site, as well as its relationship with marketers and content partners.

Two key features announced:

“Timeline”- A new feature that preserves and highlights important events in users’ lives, as captured on Facebook. This “digital scrapbook” will allow users to scroll back chronologically through all the photos, posts, and life events they have shared since joining.

Updated “Open Graph”- Facebook’s move to become the online hub for all of its users’ activities.

Zuckerberg declared Facebook’s intention to be the social platform of the web, hosting third-party apps that allow users to consume and discover content without leaving He announced partnerships with an impressive list of businesses, including Netflix, Hulu, the Washington Post, and the music-streaming service Spotify.

Other recent changes to Facebook include “Friend Lists” to ease privacy and selectivity of sharing (reminiscent of Google+’s “circles”), a “Subscribe button” to allow one-way, asymmetric relationships (reminiscent of Twitter “follows”), and “Ticker,” a real-time stream of all friends’ activities. These past several days have been truly historic for the social network and highlight two interesting themes to consider moving forward.

(1) Facebook’s “Platform Play” and Increased Competition with Apple

A major driver of the success of the iPhone and iPad has been the thriving app marketplace. Each new App created for Apple’s operating system that delights a user makes the experience of owning an iPhone a little bit better—and Apple doesn’t have to pay those developers a dime upfront. Apple effectively outsources much of its software R&D and risk-taking at zero cost, and then it takes 30% of all sales of those apps through its closed-wall app store. It is a beautiful business model.

The cycle then builds on itself. Apple earned a huge lead over its competitors in terms of smartphone (now tablet) market share while fostering a prolific App ecosystem. Consumers see all the wonderful apps their friends can download for $.99 (or free) and decide to buy an iPhone. Future app developers see all the adopters of iOS and choose to develop for that platform because they want the largest potential market for their products. The cycle repeats. The power of positive externalities is clear.

Enter Facebook. Facebook already has a user base of 800 million, dwarfing Apple’s. By positioning itself as a platform for social apps, and not merely a website that directs traffic to other domains, Facebook creates a similar “walled-garden” scenario.

Apple monetizes the value of its platform through sales of connected devices and hardware; Facebook monetizes indirectly through advertising. The more of your online time (and data) that goes to Facebook, the more advertising revenue increases for the social giant.

(2) Continued Google Rivalry for Content Discovery Online

While the Facebook-Apple competition is only now emerging, much has been written of Facebook’s challenge to Google’s supremacy as the discovery engine of the web. Google helps people find content through an algorithm-driven search engine that gauges the quality and relevance of websites largely by the number of hyperlinks directed to those pages.

Facebook, on the other hand, harnesses peer recommendations and knowledge to answer questions. If hyperlinks were the currency of the web during the reign of Google, social connections may be supplanting them with the ascent of Facebook.

Facebook’s new features revolve partly on the notion of removing the friction involved in sharing content. If a user listens to a song through a Facebook-hosted app, for example, her friends can be notified automatically, without her having to click “like” every few minutes.

Every time someone discovers a new song, movies, game, news articles, or website through Facebook instead of a Google search, Google loses the opportunity to generate a related set of ads, the lifeblood of the business. Google is clearly taking this risk seriously, with its investment in Google+ ample and incorporation of social signals into search as ample proof.

The struggle between Facebook, Google, and Apple will be a fascinating drama to follow in the coming months and years.

(c) Three Ships Media 2011


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  • esprg Sep 26, 2011

    I do use my FB app on my BB more than I do Twitter. Unless one of the shows I am watching states the stars from the show will be tweeting live...but then me and like hundreds of others trying to tweet & get a reply is like finding a lost earring on 42nd Street.

  • EverythingTicksMeOff Sep 26, 2011

    rc124816, yep! Haven't a clue why WRAL posted this press release from FB as a top story. It should have been in the list of business stories.

  • EverythingTicksMeOff Sep 26, 2011

    imsosorry, so there you are lying on the pavement after a particulary bad accident. You bleeding to death and very nice young man gets out of an EMS truck and comes to help you. Uh, oh. He's an atheist! What do you do? No room for atheists in your life. Go meet your maker. Jeeez..... I wonder how many things you would have to banish from your life if you knew they were created by atheists.

  • Vita Brevis Ars Longa Sep 26, 2011

    "None of those things are achievements." Haterlike Darth Vader
    I would think that being the founder and co-founder of a multi- billion dollar industry was indeed quite an achievement. And yes one of them being gay and both being atheist is noteworthy and defines them just as much as someone being Christian, wouldn't you think? Now the fact that Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, the two richest men in the nation are also atheists helps to show that one doesn't need faith to do good work. Buffett has pledged the majority of his wealth to charity and the Gates Foundation is the largest in the world. At the same time studies show that Americans would never vote for an atheist. Make you think doesn't it?

  • Rebelyell55 Sep 26, 2011

    Here a lot of comments about getting off or not being on facebook, and while it's getting harder to use, I still see just about all of the regulars still on it. But I've notice that half are not on as much, and doing less or not on as long. I think the old boy got a couple of people who are trying to kill facebook.

  • oMzziG123 Sep 26, 2011

    I just created a Twitter account. Haven't got a clue how to use it. This may be my replacement for FB. Will see.

  • oMzziG123 Sep 26, 2011

    FB is becoming more and more confusing to use. It's becoming more and more aggravating to use. I'm tired of all the new junk they keep adding. I'm gonna give Google+ a try to see how I like it. I will decide in the next six months if I will continue to use FB. FB better start listing to the disgruntled member or it's bye bye FB for me.

  • earthsister Sep 26, 2011

    @Steel This, please don't think that G+ is better from a privacy perspective. Google data mines and tracks you online just as badly as FB does. I recommend Diaspora.

  • Hater like Darth Vader Sep 26, 2011

    "Love Facebook, The Co-Founder Chris Hughes is a native North Carolinian who is openly gay and atheistic, and the founder is an open atheist! NC should be proud of having one of our own leading the cyber revolution of the 21st century!" -Saberage

    None of those things are achievements. Being Atheist or gay doesn't define who a person is either. This is probably one of the dumbest things I've read in a while. But it shows the general thought process that atheists go through.

  • rc124816 Sep 26, 2011

    Is there anyone else who thinks this "news article" sounds like an advertisement for Facebook?