Scripting News for 7/13/2007

What is Facebook worth? 

There’s been a debate raging on Techmeme, the website that turns the tech blogosphere into a mail list, about the value of Facebook.

I have two answers to the question: 1. A lot. 2. Or very little. Depending on what they do.

The next evolution of the web is to deconstruct social networks into their components. I’m tired of building networks of friends, over and over. Next time I do it, it’ll be for keeps. It’ll be the “real” social network, the one all future social networks build on, just as the format and protocol designed by TBL was the one we all built on for basic machine-level networking.

The “arcs” — the lines connecting people — will need to have better labels. And like the Internet, be subject to innovation by anyone, without anyone else’s permission. Small pieces, loosely joined.

And the arcs will connect groups of people too. Big pieces that act just like the small pieces. :-)

And there will be an easy way for an app to authenticate someone, and access data private to the app, and data that the user has let the app have access to. That way when I register to be part of a new community I don’t have to re-enter all my data again.

If Facebook has the guts and vision to become this network, then it’s worth everything, even $10 billion isn’t enough. Instead of Yahoo or Microsoft acquiring them, they will be in the buyer’s seat. And Facebook has a clear shot at doing it. But there’s no evidence that they get this, and no evidence that if they do get it, that they’re going to move aggressively to fill the need.

There are plenty of other identity systems out there that could be easily extended to become social networks. Yahoo, imho, made a serious mistake when they made 360 independent of their main identity system. But they did a smart thing (although painful for existing users) when they folded Flickr’s identity system into their main system. Same with Google and Orkut. Don’t start new namespaces, build off the one you have.

None of these mistakes are new, they’ve all been made many times over. IBM had the PCjr, when all the market wanted was a cheaper PC. And Hypercard should have been a scripting language integrated with the Mac OS, why have two graphic environments when your strength is the unity of your UI? What value were the rules of UI design if Apple immediately broke them? Unification leads to simplicty. Coalesce instead of fork. This is Postel’s Law, still a very good one to follow. Fewer formats please. And fewer logons, and fewer networks of friends.

And Twitter still looks good. Let’s hope they keep it simple. :-)

Out and about 

Lack of updates here the last couple of days are due to meetings around the Bay Area discussing new ideas, products, investments. Today I’m down the peninsula in Mountain View, Palo Alto and Menlo Park.

14 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by vanni on July 13, 2007 at 7:04 am

    …. but not in Cupertino? ;-)

    Reply

  2. Nope, not Cupertino.

    Reply

  3. How can internet companies be expected to get together and agree to use a single SN / identity system? Nobody wants to get “IBM’d”. The owner of a single SN would potentially be in a catbird position to pick off other companies’ most profitable businesses one by one.

    Reply

  4. How can internet companies be expected to get together and agree to use a single SN / identity system? Nobody wants to get “IBM’d”. The owner of a single SN would potentially be in a catbird position to pick off other companies’ most profitable businesses one by one.

    How can internet companies be expected to get together and agree to use a single network protocol? Nobody wants to get “IBM’d”. The owner of a single protocol would potentially be in a catbird position to pick off other companies’ most profitable businesses one by one.
    ;-)

    Reply

  5. Good point but lets get real, Facebook, Myspace, Yahoo, etc. aren’t going to give up their user lock-in without a fight. Hell, Facebook doesn’t even have an RSS feed for their ‘feed’ feature.

    I mean – the only reason we have an open tcp/ip + dns + html based web and internet is because M$ft, Oracle, etc. were too busy trying to create closed networks to notice that tcp/ip was eating their lunch. And they learned their lesson – see the IM market, for instance.

    I’m not saying its GOOD – but its reality when multi-billion dollar profit-maximizing corp’s are involved.

    Reply

  6. hey Dave….I was talking about this yesterday with investors…enough said…anyway…we’re creating a social network as a draw to our main product…meaning…i want components too….

    lets solve the problem.

    if you want more details email me personally…

    Reply

  7. What do you think of RDF as the underlying social network format? It has arcs that can be labelled anything, is open, endorsed by TBL and there’s already an open social network, FOAF (http://www.foaf-project.org/). It seems like a good place to build from….

    Thoughts?

    Reply

  8. RE: FB having the guts to loosely join, it’s a corollary to your “People come back to places that send them away” isn’t it?

    Reply

  9. That’s twice this last week you seem to have forgotten OpenID in favour of abdicating identity to $some_company.

    What’s that about then?,

    Reply

  10. Posted by Fred Vogelstein on July 13, 2007 at 6:13 pm

    Couldn’t agree more Dave. What we have in Facebook is the beginnings of trusted online identity – a place where you are truly yourself because doing anything else makes your experience less fun and less valuable. It’s not there yet. It needs to be easier for me to divide my life on Facebook into work, play, family so that I can easily control who sees what about me. And the applications need to be better. But once that happens – assuming they don’t screw it up – they will be sitting on one of the most valuable assets of all time.

    Reply

  11. I totally agree about being sick of recreating my social network on an ever growing list of socnet systems.

    Twitter has it right, where we can easily list our friends and followers through a simple XML or JSON url.In fact, using these urls alone we could easily create our own TwitterGroupo applications and networks.

    Can Facebook do this? ie: do they provide a url to a data feed listing my friends and contacts with a unique user id for each too?

    With that alone, we could then create appls which group and list our mates no matter what socnet they are part of.

    As Marc Canter would say it’s ‘People Aggregation’ – system agnostic.
    :)

    Reply

  12. Re. “The “arcs” — the lines connecting people — will need to have better labels.”

    This photo (from Henry Story) shows exactly that, using Web technology we’ve already got.

    Reply

  13. “The “arcs” — the lines connecting people — will need to have better labels. And like the Internet, be subject to innovation by anyone, without anyone else’s permission. Small pieces, loosely joined.”

    Do you know that you are describing basic web principles such as URIs and RDF? I think it is odd that this wasn’t mentioned specifically. Anyone can use RDF to desribe any web resource (or any resource for that matter) without anyones permission.

    RDF is small pieces, loosely joined. Nuff said.

    Reply

  14. Dave,

    Agree totally. The way social networks will be created in the future is the way address books were created in the past. *I* own my address book (not some faceless corporation on the way to its IPO) and I choose who I share it with. I might give you an address (or two or many) but when I give it, I give it wholly and with trust attached, and most importantly, without third party linkage or recording.

    The next generation of social network and identity providers (and convergence is essential) must offer complete anonymity to their subscribers if they are to succeed. This anonymity will reduce them to the role of their forefathers, namely infrastructure providers. There should be many (riffing on Marc Canter’s model of social networking) and it shouldn’t matter that you belong to one or the other because they have to interoperate to survive. Now in this scenario you own your own social network and as you have said, there is only one, your one.

    Reply

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