Facebook is not really a destination. Facebook is a system that provides a number of services at a single location. It provides the ability to create websites easily (as pages in Facebook), for people to search for others by interest as well as identity and for people to post data about themselves, their groups or their companies — without technical skills or fancy software.
In other words, Facebook is a web design tool, a search system and a blogging service all rolled into one interface and one URL. Under the hood are a series of services designed to analyze and monetize this activity.
The web is a computer system. The history of computing shows a pattern of absorbing highly desired capabilities into the fabric of the operating system. There was a time when you needed to load a special app to connect to the internet and when compressing a file required purchasing a special program.
Now these capabilities are built into the operating system. There were court cases in the 1980’s when Microsoft added disk repair capabilities to Windows. Prior to that you needed to buy applications from other companies in order to maintain your hard disk. Those companies sued Microsoft for breach of copyright, lost and vanished.
I had the misfortune of working as a network support technician in the 1980s. Getting a single network card to work could take hours because it required loading several programs and then configuring them to interact correctly. Getting 10 computers to network could take a week.
Now all that work is done automatically by the operating system in seconds — all those applications are built into the fabric of the operating system. Most of these applications are still separate programs, but since they’re controlled by the operating system, we call them processes. As I write this the only application I have open is my word processor, yet my PC is running 50 processes, most of these were once independent programs, which I would have had to buy, install and configure separately.
Thus we see that universally required capabilities start as independent applications but eventually melt into the fabric of the system. I think web search is going that way now.
I rarely go to Google anymore. I don’t need to — most browsers allow me to type my search directly into the address bar — the browser will work out if it’s a search or a destination and handle things for me. Alternatively I can embed a search box directly into my taskbar or desktop. Thus Google is ceasing to become a destination and starting to become part of the fabric of my system.
There’s no denying the appeal of social networking. People love to connect and talk. Everyone wants to do it, and the presence of link icons for dig.it, YouTube, Facebook, etc on many websites shows that people want to be able to exchange items of interest at any time. In other words, there is a desire to social network as we do other stuff, not only as a dedicated task.
Tim Berners-Lee is the guy who invented the web, creating HTML. His vision for the web has yet to be achieved. His original concept was that the web would enable people to create information with the same ease that they could view it. Initially he couldn’t find anyone to create a browser. Software companies simply didn’t believe ordinary people would want to look at web pages.
In the end it was university students who built the first browsers for themselves. It still took a few years for companies to accept that maybe, just maybe, ordinary people would have an interest in looking at web pages. However, until the rise of blogging and then social networking, they still refused to accept that people would also like to generate and exchange content as well.
Eventually there will be no need to visit Facebook merely because you want to engage in social networking – the ability to social network will be available to you anywhere, anytime. The concept of having to visit a special site just to social network will seem quaint.
Facebook as a website will vanish as Facebook services become part of the infrastructure of the web. Facebook will eventually morph into a set of services which will be plugged into other websites, into browsers and into the operating system. Facebook will become nothing more than a series of API’s (application programming interface’s).
This may sound a little far-fetched, but there’s someone else who thinks like this — Mark Zuckerberg, the founder and owner of Facebook. This is his vision for Facebook and it’s the direction he’s taking the company.
It’s one of the reasons he’s refused to sell the company or go for IPO — he thinks the corporate suits wouldn’t get this, and would stifle the company’s future by trying to maintain the current format of Facebook as a website. However, this is where the Facebook development effort is going.
Already you can insert many Facebook systems into your website, such as the Like button, activity feed, recommendations plugin and personalization of your site-based on the visitor’s Facebook preferences. Facebook doesn’t want to be a huge website. It wants to be a ubiquitous service.
If you want to get with the future of Facebook, if you want to get ahead of the pack in social networking, forget building Facebook pages. Master the Facebook API, and start learning how to successfully embed social networking capabilities into your own websites.
Don’t silo social networking into a special social networking website — make part of everything you create online.