Facebook Stole the Social Network

Facebook's New Business Cards (View I)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.

7 comments so far

  1. Tara 'Miss Rogue' Hunt on

    Wow. Awesome post. I couldn’t agree more. ;)

  2. Philip Ashlock on

    Very well said.

    i’ve actually been in touch with a developer from facebook to explain to him the importance and advantage of adopting OpenID. I don’t think anyone at facebook was aware of this or the OSIS agreement, but it seems like after some prodding they’re keeping it on their radar

  3. Martin Wells on

    Don’t get me started on OpenID!

  4. […] Marty Wells of Tangler (and a Citizen Agency client) has some great thoughts on Facebook’s usurping of MySpace’s opportunity to set the standard API of the social web. Basically, that Facebook came out with their API first means that they dictate the standard calls and features that everyone else will now have to offer parity with. […]

  5. […] At least that’s what Marty Wells says.  He certainly has the rap down pat and explains succinctly the inner politics and issues in this chess game.  The key to his argument is that MySpace missed the boat and Facebook now has the leadership mantle by the horns. […]

  6. Dave Fetterman on

    Thanks, Marty. Really well said.

    Dave Fetterman
    Tech. Lead, Facebook Development Platform

  7. Andy on

    so well said, wise words… totally agree, facebook has grabbed the long-term lead by making the smart move to open APIs.

    ironically, myspace is now becoming even more ‘closed’ by planning to launch a music store and sell to it’s ‘trapped’ consumer base! hmmm… compete with itms? yeah, right! bad move guys, they still don’t get it huh?

    this is such a smart move, myspace may have strength in numbers, but for how long? the long-term money is on facebook.

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