Marc Andreessen discovered blogging recently and is becoming a blogging sensation faster than he became the poster child for Web 1.0 with Netscape. In his most recent blog, Andreessen analyzes the Facebook phenomenon, looking at the pros and cons of the new platform, with some comparison to the social networking company Ning, which he co-founded with Gina Bianchini.
Andreessen lauds the Facebook Platform and APIs as "an amazing achievement -- one of the most significant milestones in the technology industry in this decade." However, he points out five issues with the Facebook Platform, in part reflecting his involvement with Ning, which allows users to create their own Facebook-like networks.
Here are his five points, abridged:
The first is that Facebook itself is not reprogrammable -- Facebook's own code and functionality remains closed and proprietary. The second is that all third-party code that uses the Facebook APIs has to run on third-party servers -- servers that you, as the developer provide.
The third is that you cannot create your own world -- your own social network -- using the Facebook platform. You cannot build another Facebook with it.
Fourth, and perhaps most significantly, when your application takes off on Facebook, you are very happy because you have lots of users, and you are very sad because your servers blow up.
Fifth, there's the fascinating issue of the Facebook application directory -- the page from which users can pick which applications they want to use. When you develop a new Facebook application, you submit it to the directory and someone at Facebook Inc. approves it -- or not.
Andreessen concludes that the Facebook Platform "may well serve as a powerful precedent for how other web businesses will open themselves in the future."
Agreed. It turns out that a majority of users want to inhabit a more controlled environment with established guidelines and amplified by a sophisticated set of APIs, despite the relative lack of openness and flexibility. Just look at the recent migration of users from 'no space' and MySpace to Facebook. It's like moving from the untamed Wild Web to a more structured environment, which will appeal to more mature audiences. Facebook's challenge moving forward is to maintain its role as a kind of benevolent ruler, keeping members and developers happy, while avoiding the pitfalls of dictatorship and overreaching.