When Facebook launched its new platform last week, a new era of interacting online was started. Suddenly companies can have immediate access to a network of over 25 million users which is growing at an insane rate. Within one day, new startups can gain traffic that was previously accessible to only those that had the money for major PR and marketing campaigns at launch time. With such benefits available to startups, there is no choice but to hop on the bandwagon and offer a Facebook application to their users. What is the end result of all these startups hopping on board? David Sacks points out:
The potential for Facebook to layer on any feature whose value increases with the participation of friends is an incredibly broad canvas for a portal. Moreover, as each new application gains acceptance, it enriches the overall value of the network and makes it incrementally more likely that the next application will be tried. Much of what we know as “Web 2.0‚Ä? will eventually be rebuilt on top of Facebook.
So as companies build applications for Facebook, the question becomes, will users travel away from Facebook to view the sites of application creators? In my own opinion the answer for this depends on what type of application is being built. Many users will choose to stick to the confines of Facebook as it is a platform that they feel comfortable with. Others will venture out and sign up for new sites that will help enrich their experience. In either circumstance, the user will still come back to Facebook. As Fortune points out:
Today, social networking is fragmented. There are networks for dating, for philanthropy, for pet owners, for parents. But each has its own ways for members to register, describe themselves, communicate, and interact. Facebook aims to make much of that unnecessary. It will provide the underlying services - a platform - and offer access to its prerecruited pool of members. It will retain some online real estate and will still generate the lion’s share of its revenue from advertising.
Ultimately the goal is to make a start page for users that is so useful, they don’t need to go anywhere else. Why go to a news site when it comes to you? Why go to your bank’s site when you can view your balance right from your start page? If Facebook can bring everything directly to the user and force the other sites to be simply content providers, it becomes an easier interaction for the user and a better situation for Facebook. Facebook has gone an taken existing concepts (startpages, rss feeds, etc) and has now brought it to the masses. Internet users that once had no idea what all of these new technologies are about, will now experience the benefits of existing technologies even if they don’t understand how they work because all they need to do is click “Add Application”.
So back to the initial question. Is there any point in launching your own social application? In the long run, probably not. All sites will eventually become content providers that allow users to decide for themselves how they are going consume information. RSS feeds and OPML are only the beginning of such technologies. While this is going to take time to manifest, in the foreseeable future you are going to have access to all the information you want right at your fingertips, all from one page. While search will still be necessary to find new sources of content, users will be able to avoid navigation the web on a daily basis to consume all the information that they want. While its not going to happen immediately, Facebook has just taken a huge step in that direction.