There is usually so many things I want to write about that I end up overdigesting my ideas and write very little… and when I do write it tends to be long and expansive and hard to process in one gulp.
I had drinks last week with Josh Kopelman and Rob Hayes of First Round Capital. I have the unique distinction of having Josh as an investor in companies I founded (Majestic Research, Root Markets), of being an investor in Josh’s fund as an LP, and of investing directly alongside of Josh (del.icio.us and Aggregate Knowledge). Suffice it to say that Josh knows my many sides and so I appreciated his perspective on my blogging: “Seth, all you ever seem to write are long, esoteric posts about… Attention. You have such great, funny perspective to share.” He wanted to know not what I thought of metadata ownership, but rather my off-the-cuff reflections as a recent New York transplant in Silicon Valley.
I told Josh and Rob how enthusiastic I was about the Facebook ecosystem that seemed to be bubbling up like thick layer of foam over a double shot of Google. It is as if in a matter of months, both the high end of LinkedIn and the high-end of MySpace had been absorbed into the Facebook social graph. LinkedIn is suddenly no longer the social network of choice for us chic geeks. Yes, we learned how to tell our professional stories these past few years in the LinkedIn profile fields, but- as in summer of our 8th grade- we are now ready to lose the awkward friends we had accumulated , and start from scratch in a new environment.
Meanwhile, the kids who treated their MySpace profile, and concomitant friend requests, with the same reckless abandon that we have done with our LinkedIn profiles, have now de-camped for Facebook. While I don’t have fresh data on hand to support this hunch, the well-sourced rumor I heard last week ab out MySpace scrambling feverishly to open their API’s reinforces what is becoming obvious: MySpace’s Kremlin-esque behavior towards 3rd party widget developers -”we buy them or we crush them!”- is on a crash course with the debauched dirty-dancing going on amidst the MySpace spring-breakers. As these kids move from junior high to high school, from high school to college, and from college to the work force, they are increasingly choosing the meritocratic social logic of Zuckerberg over MySpace’s “hot or not?” popularity contest
There can be little doubt now that Facebook is a platform for social media, as opposed to simply a web site community. Time will tell whether it can continue to scale through opening up its audience to 3rd party developers like Microsoft did in the 80′s. This weekend I watched the Gates/Jobs conversation from D on my iPod. The elephant in the room that nobody really discussed was the fact that competition stopped at a certain part in their relationship, Microsoft became a monopoly, and Gates became the richest person in the world.
This was not an accident, but was in fact a direct result of the platform strategy that Microsoft so successfully pursued. Back in March, 2005 in a blog post, I recounted a meeting that taught me more about platforms than anything since:
In 1999 I sat down with Brad Silverberg of Ignition VC who Microsoft recruited out of Borland in the early 90′s to become the lead developer and project manager of Windows 95. Never has there been a more valuable platform. He described 3 things that platforms needed to have:
- wide distribution
- application developers making money
- good tools
Let’s test those three axioms against the preeminent platform play of our time, Google:
- Wide distribution? YES
- Application developers making money? YES (if you count all the adsense publishers)
- Good tools? YES (all the adwords and adsense self-service goodness)
Now let’s test these axioms against Facebook:
- Wide distribution? YES
- Application developers making money? NO (at least not yet, I will comment on 3rd party Facebook developers such as Slide, Rockyou, and AttentionSoft)
- Good tools? YES
So, the question for establishing Facebook’s value as a platform is no longer whether Facebook itself can make money but whether its developers can do so. And in a world where retail software sales are no longer a legitimate business model for developers, the default assumption is that these developers will make money through advertising. Which begs the question as to whether there is a pragmatic alternative to Google adsense (no) and therefore suggests that Facebook will need to create this for its developers.
Later in that post from March 2005 I related platform strategy to API structure:
Nobody controls the web as a platform the way that Microsoft controlled the desktop. But certain parties do control enormous pools of user data and direct their behavior…API’s are fountains of data, mostly consumer meta data, that are the byproduct of some other functionality… The value of a web service API is tied to its ability to convert granular feeds of individual data into useful social media contexts.
I wrote this before I had ever used Facebook but the implication is clear now. Google does not offer this Social Media API. Facebook does. Here is an example of its API syntax:
Returns whether or not each pair of specified users is friends with each other. The first array specifies one half of each pair, the second array the other half; therefore, they must be of equal size.
What could be more useful as a social media context for a software application than being able to ask whether two users are friends with eachother?