Facebook is a wonderful example of the next wave of blockbuster new Web apps. Didn’t realize that though until I read Andy Kessler’s interview with 22 year old Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, who is reputed to have already turned down a billion dollar plus offer for the site from Yahoo!
Facebook’s mission statement tells the story once you look at it carefully:
"Facebook is a social utility that connects you with the people around you.
You can use Facebook to:
- Share information with people you know.
- See what's going on with your friends.
- Look up people around you.”
Read it again if you don’t spot a significant difference from what most other social networking sites claim to do. Aha, you got it: Facebook is not for FORMING new groups in cyberspace; it’s for serving EXISTING groups. This opportunity opened up when broadband penetration became great enough so that, for some existing groups – American college campuses, for example – everyone in the group is online and is computer facile.
Mark started Facebook in his second year of Harvard because Harvard didn’t have a paper "pigbook" – a duplicated sheaf of pictures and bios of students. Facebook is a tool for creating entries about yourself and RESTRICTING the information in those entries to the group or groups you choose to identify with. Facebook didn’t create the Harvard undergraduate community, obviously; it just enabled the members of the group to interact better than they could before. Within two weeks, according to Andy’s interview, two thirds of the school had signed up. No marketing.
Other campuses were quick followers. This wasn’t just viral; it was a pandemic. Today Andy says there are 16 million users, half of whom use it every day. The key to this success, says I, is that the groups already existed. This is not the kind of "group forming network" which were so successful on the early Internet and Web; this is a group enhancing network. Facebook didn’t have to wait to accrete members one at a time until it reached critical mass; once it reached critical mass virally at Harvard it could infect other campuses (groups) almost en masse – and it did.
This is an example (which I should have known about) of what I meant when posting that the next great opportunity was not Web 2.0+ or Web 3.0 but Local Web. The simplest groups to serve are the ones that are geographically connected so that you get real world as well as cyber buzz – campuses are a great example. But you have to watch your timing because, unless the group has almost universal broadband access and use, it won’t adopt a broadband application as part of its daily life. Needless to say, these opportunities will be opening up as broadband penetration increases.
Note also an essential "local" feature of Facebook: you can restrict who has access to your information. Andy quotes Mark: "The power here is that people have information they don’t want to share with everyone. If you give people very tight control over what information they are sharing or who (sic) they are sharing with, they will actually share more. One example is that one third of our users share their cell phone number on the site."