Here I am again, this time on Facebook, typing in the same details I had typed in at Friendster, Orkut, Tribe and MySpace. I could have done it my sleep, answering the same inane questions about my favorite TV shows, movies, books, hobbies, and interests. So I have to tell yet another social network that I still hate TV, I love John Cheever’s books and Sofia Coppola’s movies, and I enjoy cooking and traveling.
I can think of better ways to spend a lovely summer afternoon in Amsterdam than typing in the same pieces of information for the fifth time in three years. But I have to try this “new” thing because my techie friends in San Francisco are telling me I should try it, and Marc Andreessen (founder of Netscape) says:
To start, my personal opinion is that the new Facebook Platform is a dramatic leap forward for the Internet industry.
I can’t argue with Marc, whose experience in these matters exceeds mine.
So, am I the only idiot who can’t figure out what’s so great about Facebook? It does nothing for me. It’s a total waste of time like Friendster, Orkut, Tribe and MySpace (where my languishing profile has not been updated in a year and Keane still plays “Bedshaped”). I added these applications to my Facebook page: Flickr, Twitter and Flixster (where I found that one of my favorite films, “Der Untergang” had an unpopularity rating of 64%). I also added an application called My Books, but could not face having to add one by one the 248 books that are already listed in LibraryThing.
So what’s there for me in Facebook? I guess I could look up former classmates from high school and university, but why? If I haven’t kept in touch with them in the prehistoric days before Facebook, why should I do it now? Was there anyone I really missed? My current friends already know where to find me. They know where my Flickr photos are posted and the bookworms among them already share their libraries with me on LibraryThing.
Must everything be turned into a portal?
Go back a few years, back in the days of the dot-com boom, before someone coined the term “social networking site”. We had these one-stop shop operations then. They were called portals and their valuations were in the billions of dollars. I’m thinking of Yahoo, MSN, and Lycos. And there was Spray Network, a pan-European portal I joined in early 2000, at the height of the craziness, as its first and last chief legal officer.
Each portal promised to be the ONE place where you would do everything: catch up on email, read news, shop, find movies, etc. By attracting all those eyeballs, enticing people to set up accounts and keeping them on it for hours a day (they hoped), the portals could sell massive amounts of advertising (they thought).
Indeed, there were and still are a lot of people who visit their Yahoo home page. Not me. That’s the glory of the Internet. I don’t have to rely on Yahoo to find the things I need to shop for or to gather up the news I want to read. All of that is a click away. On the Internet. I have old-fashioned tabs on my browser with my favorite sites. There’s even a search engine called Google.
Now, it appears that the idea of a portal never really died. The one-stop shop idea has carried over into the open-API social networking hype of the moment. Facebook’s investors use a more sophisticated argument that combines the latest buzz words and trends: open API meets social networking.
And why not? Those investors have to make Facebook seem like anything but a 1999 portal otherwise there’s no billion dollar exit via an IPO or a MySpace-like acquistion by a media conglomerate or even by (don’t-call-me-a-portal) Yahoo.
Here’s the argument: Facebook’s not a portal, it’s a one-stop place where you can access your photos that are posted on another site (Flickr), your books (My Books), your movie reviews (Flixster). And somehow all this is just more convenient that whatever you’ve been doing before plus to get to find your old long lost friends and make new pals.
By opening up their API, Facebook has indeed made it easier for online services like Twitter and Flickr to integrate their applications into the Facebook interface. So now, you can access Twitter right there on your Facebook profile page. Never mind that it takes only a few seconds to open up another browser window to type your Twitter news or access your Flickr photos.
Here’s the other argument people use in favor of using Facebook: your friends can see all of your books and movie reviews on one page, and best of all, other people who are connected to your friends, can also become your friends on Facebook. This sounds exactly like Friendster and it did not work for me. The only people who consistently pestered me were “connection hounds” — people who loved to brag that they had 1000+ friends. They were exactly the kind of “friends” I did not want to have.
I have two blogs and my friends read my postings there. They know where my Flickr photos are posted and where LibraryThing books are archived. If I reviewed a movie, restaurant, hotel, or beach chiringuito, it’s going to be on my personal blog, Rosecantine.
What’s behind Facebook?
Advertising. Can you think of another model? I can’t, so again maybe I am missing something.
What kinds of ads do you think I’ll get from them? Let me guess, the same sort of mass market ads I got from Yahoo, MSN, and Lycos back in the old portal days. Shopping will consist of chain store offerings from the GAP and Victoria’s Secret, film and music promotions will no doubt consist of mainstream acts and Hollywood’s latest garbage, and TV – more garbage, or what the Spanish call “telebasura”.
And unlike Flickr, where your photos are yours, everything you enter into Facebook belongs to them. How nice. I get pitched bucket loads of ads, don’t make any money for taking the trouble of helping them sell ads, and then they own my content. Along the way, I help the founders and investors get their $$$ exit.
Sounds like a portal.
[Note: I loved working at Spray Network. I had great colleagues and was really upset when we did not go forward with our IPO in 2000. We sold the company to Lycos Europe at the end of 2000 for $550 million. Lycos Europe wrote off $500 million in 2001.]
Update (10-10-2007): Check out this post by Jason Kottke who thinks Facebook is also overrated: http://www.kottke.org/07/06/facebook-is-the-new-aol