If you want to find something, anything on the web, you "google" it…I mean how ubiquitous has a company become when it's name becomes the verb for a common activity? Now I realize there are other search options, but according to the latest stats more many more people prefer (or default) to Google's search engine. It hasn't always been this way online though, once there were online services that dominated online experience. In the 1980's CompuServe (CIS) dominated the pack, with competitors like The Source and Prodigy, providing everything from the client software to the network to file transfer and email, even building an early form of chat. CIS was a pioneer and dominated until the mid-1990's when America Online (AOL) rose to prominence and replaced and/or bought most of the other online services. All of these services provided the entire experience and filtered the wider Internet. The consumer experience was basically a walled garden.
In the late 1990's, with the growing popularity of the World Wide Web, companies moved away from closed online services and the people followed. The browser wars and the search wars played out and the web as we know it today started to evolve. Google, as we know, became the dominate search property and grew into a monolithic company on the backs of a new business paradigm around advertising and page views. The WWW became a place of pages as destinations and links became the motive force. We moved from the early static web to transaction web and into the era of social web. With the social web we saw an explosion of user generated content and learned new ways of interacting with and connecting to people. I doubt anyone would argue that the social web has had far reaching impact and has changed human behavior and expectations on a grand scale. Whew, I guess that's about the shortest history of the Internet that I can manage to share…anyway, the point is that things have evolved and that in the last great change Google came out as the dominate "on ramp" to the Internet.
The Internet continues to evolve though and now I'm starting to think about just how much of a disruption that the social web is creating. Last year after the Facebook f8 conference, I started thinking about the shift away from a link centric web and toward a people-centric paradigm…well, actually I called it the Facebook centric web. Part of this idea came out of the profile changes (among other things) that were announced at the conference. Well, not to disappoint, last week's f8 conference has brought these thoughts of disruption back up as Facebook rolled out this years' changes to the now quite familiar whining and complaining of some very vocal minority of Facebook users…most likely the same voices we heard last year (and notice none of them left last year…or will leave this year either).
There's been quite a lot written about the specifics of the many changes that were announced so I won't bore you with that recap. Instead I want to focus on the extension of what I started thinking last year, Facebook is becoming the new platform for the web…or at least wants to. Look at the progress Facebook has made since last year, building on the roots that were already growing of course. I think that Facebook's progress falls into 5 platforms:
- Social platform – membership now ~800M, the next closest competitor…not close enough to mention.
- Ad platform – revenue from ads should exceed $3.8B in 2011…enough said.
- Marketing platform – As of Sept 2011, 87 of the top 100 retailers have Facebook pages with a combined total of 36M fans.
- Commerce platform – 1 in 4 people have made a purchase from a brand's Facebook page. In revenue creation, ranking second to ads, Facebook is on track this year to do about $470M from Facebook credits.
- Media platform – The newest edition to the Facebook experience, although you could argue that Facebook was already a media curation platform with all of the information that is shared there daily. As of last week Facebook announced the new "streaming" timeline of a members activities and the OpenGraph which will allow applications to interact in real time with the timeline. The focus will be on media apps in music, movies, TV, news and books. Announcement partners included Spotify and Netflix (outside the US) on stage and also a list of others that ranged from Mashable, GIZMODO and Yahoo to USAToday, The Economist and Sporting News.
Last weeks changes certainly have the potential to draw more people to spend more time on Facebook and share more as well. It's an interesting circle, the more you interact and spend time, the more information you create about your preferences, the more ads can be accurately targeted and the more you can use the interaction and recommendations of your graph to find more of interest, which kicks off the cycle again…
So, is Facebook the new web platform or perhaps just increasingly the "onramp" of choice for more and more people to "do" stuff on the web. In fact Facebook is increasingly an important part of search, with people using the curated content and their own network to get information and advice. One thing's for sure, revenue is growing rapidly and the changes in just a year seem to be feeding even more growth in time spent and revenue…and also personal value? Can't wait for next year's f8?