The Facebook platform is pretty frigging smart. Actually, the notion of creating an open environment in order to extend and accommodate to your user’s world is fairly obvious, but kudos to them for pushing through with it. It seems like as soon as sites get successful, they get greedy and build walled gardens to prevent users from escaping. Well, at least Facebook realizes that they are not the center of their users’ world. It’d really only take one misstep (though it’d have to be a huge misstep), for their users to ditch FB and head off to another network. But the value add provided by the FB platform gives more reason for people to stick around. It also dilutes the impact of a misstep (although it’ll end up diluting the fervor of the diehards, but alas that’s the price of success and getting big).I’d still like to see FB open up more and adopt Open ID and making it easier to interface with FB outside of facebook.com, but this is a good first step.
Now when I say Facebook, the new Google, I’m referring to the platform environment, the dangers of the open API. This is somewhat of a trojan horse godsend for a lot of these smaller SNSes like Pickspal or Flixter, because in a snap of a finger, suddenly the big, hairy issue of reaching network effects has been seemingly solved. From a traffic and user engagement standpoint, it’s great. I would guess that the business goal for most of these guys is to get exposure and try to bring back traffic back onto its main site. Theoretically this would also enable them to focus on site features that are more contextual to the behavior and purpose of the site and offload the broader social networking basics to FB.In the short to medium term, I think this is fine. But eventually there’s going to be conflicts of interests for some of these guys (I’m going to call them mini-SNSes to try to avoid ambiguous pronouns). A lot of the mini-SNS’ brand engagement is going to happen on FB, so it’s going to dilute the mini-SNS’ brand image and user loyalty. Getting on the FB platform may help these mini-SNSes get a million users quicker, but it’s not going to make it any easier to keep those million users loyal.
I’m also curious about how it impacts the profit model. All everyone has at this point is just advertising. And I have a thought or two about that in general that I’ve been meaning to share, but that’s neither here nor there. But if 95% of a mini-SNS’ user engagement happens on FB, that might help the mini-SNS’ user and engagement numbers, but it’s not going to bring revenue in. And FB isn’t going to allow these mini-SNSes to reap advertising dollars on FB either. But I’ve only thought about it for about 5 minutes, so who knows. I would guess (or more likely hope) these guys have a much better plan moving forward.
My last point is really the whole reason for why I wrote this post. I guess I could’ve been more brief, but whatever. Google rolled out features to Google Maps earlier this year that killed off about 600 little Google-Map API based startups. This is the danger of relying completely on another’s API. If the sugar mama decides to cut you off, you get screwed. And if the sugar mama decides to move into your space, you get killed. The platform is great for the users, all the buzz is well-deserved (even though it’s not like they cured cancer, it’s just an obviously solid business decision. This is the problem when everyone keeps making stupid decisions, it makes the good decisions seem like mind-blowing, world-changing decisions.), and for FB, this is going to catapult their growth even moreso. But I can’t help but think that a year from now, we’ll be seeing a Google Maps redux.