The Future of Social

by Dru Wynings. Average Reading Time: about 4 minutes.

[Facebook.com is] an info aggregator with a great photos app. —Mike Vernal, Platform Engineering Head

Facebook is the next Google. There, I said it. The recent comparison of Facebook to Twitter or Myspace is rather shortsighted. Today Facebook is a social-network. Tomorrow? Facebook would be content with shutting down Facebook.com. Why? Because Facebook will be interconnected with the entire web. Rather than relying on users visiting Facebook.com to interact with their friends, they will capitalize on people interacting with their social graph from anywhere on the web.

Facebook has access to a wealth of information that Google wishes it had more of (Though Google is able to collect data from all Google Apps). Facebook, of course, has their user’s personal information and demographics (Age, Sex, Political Views, Interests, etc). This certainly enables them to provide better targeted advertising. A Facebook Ad Platform is inevitable.

Much more valuable, though, is the ability to organize data in a way that is relevant to the individual user. Facebook will literally be able to map out everyone’s connections. If I search for movie reviews, Google’s aggregated average rating for a movie will likely be helpful in deciding whether the movie is a complete waste of time. But it would be preferable to see my friends’ reviews of the movie, because it’s likely we have the same interests and tastes.

Page Rank Social Rank

Google’s search deal with Twitter, Facebook, and Myspace certainly is trying to position Google in a place to capitalize on the social web. However, it doesn’t go far enough. The latest buzzword for startups has been “real-time.” Most people don’t make the connection that it’s not real-time that will be the vehicle for growth. Rather, relevant information discovery is the future. Right now services like Twitter are essentially spraying information through a fire hose and you’re lucky to intake 10% of the notifications coming at you. It takes considerable focus and energy to keep up with the constant updates and notifications being sent to us. The current system is effectively  inefficient.

Real-time will enable the web to grow exponentially. The next step will be data discovery. Categorizing what information is important to me, as an individual. No longer will search rank be able to be determined by how many people are linking to the page. The future will be to efficiently organize the fire hose of information, so that relevant items are passed on to me at the appropriate time.

User Acquisition

Facebook lowered the barrier of entry for adoption of their platform by making it easy for businesses, musicians, and everyone else to sign up and get their own Facebook Group/ Fan Page. It made it so simple even mom and pop shops in Middle America have their own Facebook Page. No need to be technically inclined and install anything on their own server.

The next step is to take advantage of Facebook’s brand name and marketshare by now expanding onto as many domains across the web. How is this possible? Facebook’s Open Graph API. Again, lowering the barrier of entry.

Facebook Connect

Facebook Connect is the ideal SSO (Single sign-on) as it verifies the user’s identity, users trust Facebook to protect their privacy, and it truly connects the user’s social graph.

This is fundamentally crucial in social gaming. Users are more keen to play games with their friends than by themselves. Enabling Facebook Connect allows game developers to capitalize on the the tendencies of users with regards to Social Psychology. Reputation, Competition, Levels,  Social Proof, Reciprocity, etc. are all harnessed with Facebook Connect. It makes every user’s actions relational; that is to say, one doesn’t value whether some random person has a nicer virtual good than they do. Rather, they’re more likely to spend more money on virtual goods if they know their friends will know. It’s the reason name brands continue to do well in the offline world, when their quality is oftentimes only marginally better. People care what other people think of them.

The Future

So if people care what others think of them, how will this affect the social/ open web?

It’s hard to say. In the past, people used the internet to anonymously post their opinions on things. That was the huge benefit of it. Now though, we’re seeing a fundamental difference. People are sharing more and more openly. That certainly can be good for society as a whole, as we are able to connect with people of different viewpoints more easily.

There are downsides though. Privacy will obviously be at the center of the debate. How safe is it to share our offline lives with our online lives? Can we presume that the information we share today online is safe, solely because technology hasn’t been created yet to exploit it? The recent controversy over Facebook and its privacy issues suggests absolutely not.

The other interesting effect will be whether this openness on the web actually encourages people to share their opinions less as they don’t want to be judged in real life.

Can the option of anonymity and authentication of users both be benefits at the same time? Or are they mutually exclusive?

[Edit: I should note that I don’t believe Facebook is infallible. Think of this post more as advice for what they should do if they don’t want to become the next fad Web 2.0 that everyone’s forgotten.]

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