02 June 2007

Facebook has the lead!

I’ve been obsessing with Facebook for the past week because of the revelation of the new Facebook Platform. What that has in turn done is show me the intricate ways in which Facebook works. How different components come together to integrate themselves to the central goal of Facebook—to keep people connected to each other.

I think Facebook in itself is way ahead of the competition because of their goal. They aim not to have tons of users. Their userbase is a result of constant innovation. They aim to improve the networks that exist, and improve the interactions between the users of the networks. They are probably the only network which emphasizes on innovating, and I think that focus is what keeps them ahead.

Facebook Platform

Some see the platform as going against Facebook’s goal. I felt the same way when it first came out, but as time has passed, and I’ve seen the applications that have popped up, I can guess where Facebook is coming from. They’re not trying to foray into any foreign territory (even if they’ve inadvertently done so). They are trying to make Facebook the one stop destination for all it’s members to find info (about everything) about their friends and the people they know. Applications to track someone’s music, activities and calendar are some of the one’s which have popped up, with some of them becoming very popular. The popularity of applications is thanks to Facebook’s social graph, and what I like to call, the Wavefront effectHuygen's principle states that every wavefront acts as the source of another wavelet. Applying that logic to how news feeds work, when someone adds an application, it shows up in their news–feed, bringing it to the attention to their friends. Their friends then add it, hence starting a new wavefront.. The beauty of this is that the one thing that developers spend most amount of time doing is trying to get their applications to the public. Facebook does that for them, so they can concentrate on building killer apps.

This is very tempting to someone like me, developers, who don’t have resources to consolidate data. Facebook provides the data. All we have to do is use our creativity to use that in ways we think people would want to use them. I don’t see Facebook platform as a detachment from their primary goal. I see it as a natural evolution.

Facebook bloat

Many complain about many of the features as ‘bloat’ and unnecessary, wanting to revert back to the old Facebook. Mark Zuckerberg once said:

Change can be disorienting, but we do it because we’re sure it makes the site better. It may have felt different at first, but things like photos, events, groups and the wall have all made Facebook a more useful and interesting site.

It’s our goal to provide a tool that helps people understand what’s going on with the people around them; all of our additions and changes contribute towards this goal. The new things we’re going to launch will do the same.

And all the current features achieve all this in perfect harmony with each other. I can’t imagine a Facebook without the news/mini–feed. That is truly the major thing that sets it apart. The first thing I want to see when I log in is what my friends have been upto since I last logged in. Who their new friends are, what events they’re attending, what pictures they’ve added, what groups they joined … all those things. If I have to go to each and every profile to check what they’ve been doing, it beats the whole purpose of being part of a network … the information should come to you automaticallyThere was an internal joke here in my hostel, that you remove the feeds, and all the information that Facebook gives you, and you have an Orkut!!

The reason I see the competition not being able to catch up with Fb anymore, is simply because of the path Fb chose and the path the others took. Fb declined the offer by Yahoo! simply to preserve what they had in their own vision. Networks like Orkut have become stagnant, or interfaces to integrations of different services by the parent company, which almost borders on advertisement of those services. Sure, the users are getting all the features that they’d normally want from a network, but they are not getting the ‘integrated’ experience. The different services don’t come together to work together. They are just there working in their own separate modules and cubicles. You’ll never get to know when someone (on Orkut, say) adds a new video or new photo about the party they attended last night. Fb can achieve this by putting two and two together (photos being uploaded after an event the previous day, follows a nice pattern) because the different applications are part of the mothership, and all data finally goes back to a central server, not different parts of the world. That is the key difference between in–house productions and acquisitions. But that is not the point to this…

The point becomes (or remains) that Facebook got a lot of things right, at the perfect time. It helped that the brain behind the concepts was a college kid himself, being able to get into the head of other college kids. And if Facebook continues the same way, there is no–way their getting dethroned as the best social network to be a part of (because it’s just plain and simple cool!)!