Facebook Stole the Social Network
Facebook have launched an API, effectively making all their user’s information accessible to external applications. It’s a great step that shows clear leadership in the space. The important thing to observe here is not that they like programmers, it’s what they’re saying about their service.
Opening up their data to the world is a big leap; something that plays against classic business practice. It’s about time social networks (and media in general) realize that the data contributed by users isn’t theirs, and never was. It’s something that should be accessible from anywhere, and like the walled gardens of yesteryear, over time you’ll see a grassroots rejection of sites that horde their user’s information as a ‘corporate asset’.
Now that rant isn’t really the point about the Facebook API, it’s that Murdoch missed (and is still missing) a glaring opportunity to setup MySpace as the standard for social networks across the entire web. A standard for social network information content and access. Imagine embedding MySpace widgets in your blog, hooking it into Google Maps, using some cute analysis system to mine data, instant messaging using a MySpace to Jabber gateway. How many tools, how many opportunities, have been lost. And it’s only going to get much worse as the API-powered playthings of today turn into the core facilities of tomorrow.
Instead, MySpace, and most other social networks keep everything internal and close to their chest. They think of their user’s data as an asset that should be closely maintained. They secretly see openness and transparency as a path to the erosion of their value. It’s a shame the opposite is true. By keeping things closed they are leaving a wide open door to be trounced by a strong competitor. Facebook just said thanks and walked in.
The resulting affects are not something MySpace will see immediately, it’ll take time. The opportunity missed was to become the standard. Now they’ve let Facebook have its merry way, it has a real shot at being the standard and MySpace’s finally-dawned-on-us-oh-god-alexa-is-falling-openess-epiphany will struggle to gain acceptance, and certainly never dominate like how it could now. If MySpace launched an API and opened their network they would stamp themselves as the unassailable leader for a long time to come.
Things have changed again. Web 2.0 is a reflection of a change that started years ago, it’s about a more interactive web where users contribute the information. Another change started a year or so ago and is a direct consequence of this interactive web: users want access to *their* data. It’s the open web, where information is shared, services are mashed up, and infrastructure (including APIs and microformats) is the critical ingredient of success. It’s an inevitable progression, and there are companies that have realized this and they are becoming the standard (Flickr, delicious and now Facebook).
To really win at this new game you need to be both a leader (at least top 3 in your space) and have the guts and belief to give users back their data. If you want to pick the future successes look beyond the user numbers.