Fred Vogelstein of Wired magazine has an interesting essay on Facebook in yesterday’s Los Angeles Times. Here’s an excerpt:
You can’t change the look and feel of your Facebook page as much as you can on MySpace, but since May you can do something much cooler: choose from a giant list of free, non-Facebook-produced programs that will run inside your page the same way Microsoft Word and Excel run on your PC. There are more than 5,000 to choose from. Zuckerberg and Facebook don’t have to anticipate all the things Facebook users want to do with their pages, but instead will let them bubble up from the global marketplace of ideas. Two of the most popular — iLike and Movies — allow users to know what music, concerts and movies their friends like best. Another, Causes, makes it easy to tell your friends the causes you care most about and solicit donations.
It all sounds way too complicated for mortals to understand until you hear Zuckerberg explain it. Boiled down, it goes like this: Humans get their information from two places — from mainstream media or some other centralized organization such as a church, and from their network of family, friends, neighbors and colleagues. We’ve already digitized the first. Almost every news organization has a website now. What Zuckerberg is trying to do with Facebook is digitize the second.
Think about what this means. Right now, the interactions among friends, neighbors and colleagues — a.k.a. word of mouth — is still analog. You go to a cocktail party, and a friend tells you about this incredible pediatrician he’s found. You ask a few other friends to confirm that data and eventually two things happen: You switch doctors, and the physician becomes a favorite in town. Now imagine that information automatically pushed out to all your friends, tested, verified and returned to you in 24 hours, and you have Zuckerberg’s vision for Facebook.
You can read the whole essay here. I think Vogelstein does a great job of capturing the essence of why Facebook is a landmark application. There have been other social networking sites, but Facebook’s combination of (mostly) true identities and an open platform upon which third parties can contribute applications is something completely new. Of course not all of the 5,000+ applications are useful. Some are just silly. But just as Windows has both Solitaire and Minesweeper (or so I’m told) as well as productivity applications, so with Facebook’s platform.
I will grant that most of Facebook’s applications to date have not been industrial strength or business focused. But as the user base continues to grow and spread like E. Coli on Topps Meat (but with much lower toxicity), and as the promised grouping of friends into different levels of familiarity (personal vs. professional vs. family) becomes a reality, the business applications of Facebook will become powerful indeed.
Hat tip: Mari Smith via (you guessed it) Facebook.