Power to the Platform


I will be the first to admit I haven’t paid much attention to Facebook. Frankly, while I have a Facebook page or wall or whatever, I don’t really know what to make of it or what to do with it. But then again, Facebook wasn’t built for me. I got dragged onto it by business acquaintances, added a few more along the way, and now I have the pleasure of viewing vacation photos and the like of people I really don’t know all that well. It’s all quite odd, but the blurring of our personal and professional lives is a rich topic that deserves a separate post.

What really caught my attention over the last few days is all the buzz surrounding F8, the annual Facebook developers conference. Whatever Facebook is, it is big and its ambitions are bigger.

The whole key to Facebook is its growth. With over 400 million active users, Facebook by some accounts now drives as much traffic as Google. But Facebook has long had ambitions to be more than just a website. To that end, it developed an Application Programming Interface (API) that lets other websites easily integrate with Facebook. Using the API, website owners can collect information on visitors to their sites who have Facebook pages, push content to friends of that Facebook-registered visitor, and show the visitor what pages on their sites have been recommended by their friends. There’s lots of twists and turns to this, but the bottom line is that Facebook not only knows a lot about you, it knows who your friends are, and it knows about many of the websites you visit and many of the websites your friends visit. In short, Facebook has morphed from a website to a platform.

Yes, all that information gives Facebook a remarkable capability to target advertising, and the data it generates on individuals is immensely valuable. But opportunities such as those seem positively tame compared to where Facebook is poised to go.

Facebook could become a Google-killer. With so much knowledge about what you like and your friends like, it’s uniquely positioned to refine web search results in a way that hasn’t been possible before. Consider this mind-blowing thought expressed at F8: social connections are the new hyperlinks. Just ponder that a bit; it’s profound.

Facebook not only has a huge user database; it’s incredibly current too. If you are into Facebook, there are powerful incentives to keep your information current, giving it reference database qualities.

With its hooks into other websites and its huge user base, Facebook is poised to get involved in e-commerce transactions in any number of ways.

Facebook also lets its users endorse third party content and sites, giving it a growing role as kingmaker in an online environment where traffic is the currency of the realm.

In short, Facebook is poised to become a central switching center for the web, with vast amounts of highly valuable information flowing through it. It’s not there yet, but few would argue that it is exquisitely positioned to achieve this audacious goal.

While Facebook may be the biggest platform play ever, there’s also an insight here for data publishers, many of whom have the potential to launch platforms for their own vertical markets. Capitalize on your central, trusted market position. Build a platform that addresses needs in your market. Make that platform easy and free for others to hook into, and you’re off to the races. Tap the power of the platform.

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