Facebook for Grownups: Can Microsoft, Apple or Google build one?

Facebook for Grownups: Can Microsoft, Apple or Google build one?

Summary: Can Microsoft, Apple and Google build the Web 2.0 infrastructure that would allow us to enjoy Social Networking in a private and secure manner?


Can Microsoft, Apple and Google build the Web 2.0 infrastructure that would allow us to enjoy Social Networking in a private and secure manner? (Photo: CBS)

With all of the recent privacy and security concerns over FaceBook in the last several days, one wonders whether or not Web 2.0-based Social Networking as it stands today is in effect, broken.

Part of the problem stems from the fact that FaceBook was initially created by Mark Zuckerberg and other students at Harvard College in order to facilitate "Campus Culture".

The World as a College Campus is a Dysfunctional, Inappropriate and Unscalable Model for Modern Social Networking

If you've had any sort of higher education, have lived on a college campus and resided in dormitories, then you can probably understand what I am inferring to here as to the type of things that go on in these living situations and how undergraduates interact in them. For young people, it is a time of self-discovery and a time to let your hair down.

FaceBook's "Virtual Campus Culture" mentality and dynamic was later extended to High School students in 2005, and to then to the general public at large in 2006.

Facebook is now a complex, dynamic website with over 500 million users with an estimated net worth of anywhere between fifteen billion and twenty-five billion dollars. It has in its short time on Earth re-defined the way that many of us have chosen to interact with each other online.

However, at the end of the day, even with all of its new found success, FaceBook is a company that still has a "Virtual Campus Culture" mindset run by very young people with limited life experience and lacking the perspective of mature companies that truly understand the security and privacy needs of adults, families and businesses.

Life Experience and Maturity Actually Means Something

It's also worth pointing out that FaceBook's chief executive and founder, Mark Zuckerberg, who is being entrusted with truly gargantuan amounts of personal data is a whole 26 years old and may not have the maturity or the life experience to appreciate the impact of how exposure of this type of information could affect so many people.

That being said, it is true that many, if not all of the most important advances and companies in this industry were built by young and enterprising people like Mark Zuckerberg. Bill Gates, Paul Allen, Steve Ballmer, Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, Sergei Brin, Larry Page, David Filo and Jerry Yang all were about Zuckerberg's age when they started their companies.

Like Zuckerberg, all of these men have strong, quirky, dynamic and opinionated personalities that give them the qualities to lead the companies they formed. The difference between them and Mark Zuckerberg, however, is they've now accumulated a tremendous amount of life experience and they've all grown up.

Mark Zuckerberg and his Millennial crew, while having accumulated a tremendous amount of wealth with FaceBook, have not yet grown up.

The others who I have named have learned from their mistakes, have had to swallow their pride and arrogance on a number of occasions, and have a much better grip on what their customers want and need since forming their companies.

Based on the many concerns which have recently come up with FaceBook, it is my opinion that the company does not yet fully understand of what it requires to satisfy the needs and concerns of their users, nor did the company understand the implications of trying to scale out "Campus Culture" to the rest of the world.

FaceBook may have hundreds of millions of users, but it's clear that something is broken in its current design and implementation, and many of us no longer feel safe or secure in using it.

While we can all agree that Social Networking is a tool that many of us want to use, most of us want the strictest assurances that our personal information and data is not going to be used for monetization purposes without our express permission, and that there will be controls in the system for preventing unauthorized access to that information.

So far, FaceBook has completely failed to give me any reason to believe they are capable of doing any of these things.

It is my opinion that we may be better served by having the "Mature" technology companies build the infrastructure for users to "Play" in and for developers to engage in. What would a "FaceBook for Grownups" look like if the established players built it?

Microsoft as Primary Candidate

Clearly the two technology companies which have the most life experience in dealing with end-users are Microsoft and Apple. While the two have often been portrayed as Oil and Water or Matter and Antimatter from the perspective of technology ideologues and their adherents, they are the two best candidates for making safer and more secure FaceBook replacements.

Microsoft brings with it over three decades of experience in designing PC operating systems and consumer software products, along with a huge software engineering team and well as significant online assets to go along with it.

Although the company was relatively late to the Internet game, it has in a short 15 years built a large stable of technologies and properites that would enable a strong foundation for a mature and secure Social Networking community.

These technologies include Office Web Apps, as well its current Web and social properties such as Bing!, Microsoft Office Live, Hotmail and MSN. Additionally, its partnership with Yahoo! and the assets and experience that company brings to the table should not be underestimated.

To round out its Social Network, Microsoft may want to look at making a significant Social Networking/Business Networking purchase by acquiring LinkedIn, which already is the preferred tool for establishing business contacts.

Combined with the functionality from the properties listed above, LinkedIn would be a major contender against FaceBook, and would give Microsoft instantaneous credibility and brand recognition in the Social Networking space.

Social Networking: There May Be an App For That

Apple is another company that could potentially create a "Mature" social networking infrastructure, although it would have to build much of it from scratch or purchase much of what it would need to fill in the pieces.

Currently, Apple has Mac.com/Mobile Me, iTunes and the App Store as its primary Internet-based properties, and has engaged in several acquisitions of late that would seem to indicate that it is looking to expand its online presence, such as the Lala music streaming service, the Quattro mobile ad network and Siri, a mobile assistant service.

Clearly, any form of Social Networking that Apple would choose to build would be heavily entrenched in and targeted towards the mobile device ecosystem which it is building for iPhone and iPad. It would be, by definition, "Locked in" to the iDevices.

While platform and service lock-in for a Social Network may sound like a negative, it may actually be a positive and may make for a higher quality, safer, more secure and better integrated Social Networking experience than trying to integrate several web sites and allowing the kind of free-form API access to user information and data that FaceBook Applications use today.

If Social Networking becomes an Apple-controlled "App" for iPhone, iPad, iPods and Macs, and developers looking to integrate with this theoretical iFriends ecosystem would wish to participate, they would to have to do it under similar types of constraints and rules already imposed on them today to develop for iPhone and iPad. Like the iPhone/iPad App Store, iFriends would have an application review process to ensure security and quality of the applications.

I've heavily criticized Steve Jobs for his controlling and isolationist personality, and the culture of secrecy which Apple has cultivated, but I'll say this right now: I'd much rather trust him with my personal data, information and security than Mark Zuckerberg on a Social Network. And if he built one for the iPad and iPhone and Mac I'd dump FaceBook tomorrow. In a heartbeat.

Given Steve Jobs' relationship with Disney and the level of standards and controls that Apple is placing on iPad and iPhone for content review, I think we can assume that College Campus behavior on this theoretical site would not be tolerated or it would be segregated, and when it comes to your children, it would be a much safer place for them to interact.

Why? Because Parental Controls would likely be put in place by Apple to allow you to review your child's friending requests and to monitor the activity going on with their accounts -- what apps they attach to, which games they play, et cetera.

For all the reasons why we feel Apple may be a control freak, it may turn out to be the reasons why the company might be the best suited for running a Social Network.

The Google Option

While Google doesn't have Enterprise/Business experience of Microsoft nor the Device/Consumer experience of Apple, it does have the greatest breath of experience and largest amount of success when it comes to the Web and leading standardization efforts which go along with it, such as HTML5.

In terms of maturity it has six additional years of life experience as a company when compared to FaceBook. While this doesn't sound like a huge difference, it actually makes all the difference in the world.

After all, in that short twelve years of life as a company many of us have already become highly dependent on Google's online services for search, mail, voice and chat/video messaging, as well as for storing and manipulating online documents and blogging.

Google is also openly developing Social Networking technologies such as Buzz, and Orkut, but there's no coherent integration between all of them yet and Google maintains an aloof "Beta" mentality when it comes to these services, and not everything Google throws against the wall actually sticks.

Case in point -- Wave, a project that Google terminated active development on in the summer of 2010. Its overall and initial reception were along the lines of "Neat, but Why do I need this and what can I use it for". I can't say that I ever found an actual need for Wave, but I could see where the technology used in that project might fit into an overall Social Networking strategy for threaded collaboration and status updates similar to FaceBook's "Wall" in user profiles.

Buzz, which was Google's answer to Twitter, launched in early 2010 with major privacy issues that were raised, and Google is in the process of trying to better understand where it made its mistakes. Unlike FaceBook, however, the company is actually willing to admit them.

I also don't particularly like Buzz in its current form, but this is not to say that as part of a single, integrated overall offering, with better privacy controls, I might not start using it again.

Right now, Google is heavily investing most of its efforts into its core services and a device/OS independence strategy with Android and Chrome OS. But it is certainly possible that if a void exists that needs to be filled with a more trustworthy, more secure Social Networking experience, Google will almost certainly be up to the challenge.

Who will build the FaceBook for Grownups? Will it be Microsoft, Apple or Google? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

Topics: Microsoft, Apple, Browser, Collaboration, Google, Social Enterprise


Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Hubbub dude

    ...hubbub...it's open source
    • RE: Care to elaborate? Thanks


      Better yet. Here's an idea: Write your own story! Yes? Yes!
      Dietrich T. Schmitz,Your Linux Advocate
  • Is This Satire?

    Can't quite believe you're serious... Microsoft as the Facebook for grown-ups (ever heard of Passport?). I can't see a critical mass embracing a Microsoft solution - it's not like we all believe Facebook is evil and Microsoft is trustworthy. Apple? Does Apple even have any significant size web initiative beyond those sites that directly support their hardware? If they do, the very fact I've never heard of them points to why plenty other people would likely not have heard about it, either. Not that Steve Jobs doesn't know how to launch a new product... . Google has shown their (in)ability to deliver a competitive product in this space. More importantly, Facebook already has the users these products would need to attract. Facebook's killer feature is that everyone's using it.

    What goes up must come down, but I have a hunch it'll be a completely new way of communicating, not a rival product doing essentially the same, which will unseat Facebook.
    • I agree mostly

      @dunraven Apple? Not a chance. They're not a web company. Google? They got permissions wrong out of the gate with Buzz. Game over.

      Microsoft, on the other hand, has several online communities that have been successful in varying degrees. Xbox Live? I'd consider that a successful community. Zune Social? Hasn't caught on widely yet, but is popular with Zune owners. Also, Microsoft is about to turn up the heat as they bring Zune to a much larger audience with Xbox integration and WP7. Windows Live Network? I actually don't know much about it... I'll decline comment.
      The thing holding Microsoft back at this point is brand perception. I think that's changing rapidly. Windows 7 has piqued people's interest in Microsoft. Bing is another property with positive public perception. As Adrian points out, Microsoft is a mature company. A company that can afford to wait until the right moment to drop new products and services. I firmly believe they've held back on any major Zune initiatives until it could debut with WP7. I think if Microsoft wants to launch a social site for grown-ups they will wait until their image lends itself to a successful launch.

      I'm not sure why you mentioned Passport. Passport is a single sign-on service. Nothing social that I'm aware of.
      • RE: Facebook for Grownups: Can Microsoft, Apple or Google build one?

        @ericesque I was referring to Passport because I perceive it as something where Microsoft was going to build a tool for everyone, and people the industry over screamed 'Trust Microsoft with private information? No way.' Funny enough (and more as a side note), Facebook seems to be becoming an identity store like Passport was intended to be. While clearly not its central purpose, it seems that Facebook is becoming a means of authenticating in some spaces, and it'll be interesting to see how far it goes. Think of the size of their user base, and the potential if all these people are immediately logged in at federated sites.
      • RE: Facebook for Grownups: Can Microsoft, Apple or Google build one?

        @ericesque "Microsoft - Welcome to the social." Yeah, they already tried that with the Zune. Didn't work out very well for them. And being a Mac user I shudder at the thought of the kind of non-support a Microsoft social service would have for Mac users. Look at the evidence:
        Microsoft has been running the MSN Messenger network for over a decade now. Yes, there's a Mac client for MSN too. And what a paltry client that is! It's now 2010 and we're still waiting for audio and video chat support for it! Something the Windows version has had for almost a decade!
        Microsoft as my future social service provider? I think I'll pass, thank you very much.
        Garion DK
  • I see the blogger forgot

    I see the blogger forgot yahoos lame attempt at social networking. The problem with yahoo is that they have blown any kinda trust they may have had by ignoring abuse reports.Yahoo is inundated with porn bots, porn web cam profiles,and the chat rooms are almost all web-cam porn bots too.
    And google as a social network?? AHAHAHAHAHA The king of data gathering,spying. Google would be the last social network i would ever join and i don't join any,i have to give up too much privacy to use the services. All my friends know who i am,what i like,what my phone number is and so on. i don't need to post it so the advertisers steal the info trying to sell me something.
  • RE: Facebook for Grownups: Can Microsoft, Apple or Google build one?

    There is no need for them to build it. Instead we should all just dump Microsoft Windows or just virtualize it and that is going to solve all the social networking problems.
    Loverock Davidson
    • There there LD. It's OK. Getting over Perlow's article will take time.

      @Loverock Davidson<br><br>Give yourself a month or so to allow the grieving process to run its course.
      Dietrich T. Schmitz,Your Linux Advocate
  • for grownups, maybe

    me and my friends all move to fuzzyorb because of these privacy concerns.. seems to be a simple site but it does what we need. Been using it for 2 months with no complaints.
  • RE: RE: RE: Google? Are you serious?

    If you expect that Google can build a Facebook competitor with better privacy than Facebook provides, you have to be smoking something.<br><br>[b]Google has no privacy.[/b] Eric Schmidt has verbally confirmed that, and Buzz has showed us that.<br><br><br>Jason, if you have issues with privacy, then perhaps you need to reassess the Internet as a whole. <br><br>Or build your own site.
    The one and only, Cylon Centurion
    • RE: Concerned about privacy?

      @NStalnecker <br><br>Maybe you should consider *why* all your emails are transiting around the Internet as 'clear text'.<br><br>That is a privacy issue.<br>We put letters in envelopes do we not?<br><br>I recall you using the word 'never' in connection with the Cloud. Soon I expect to see you on MS' Cloud bandwagon when you get off the fence you like to sit on.
      Dietrich T. Schmitz,Your Linux Advocate
      • RE: RE: Facebook for Grownups: Can Microsoft, Apple or Google build one?

        @Dietrich T. Schmitz,Your Linux Advocate <br><br>No "Clouds". Ever.

        I will always have a local OS, local storage, and local apps.
        The one and only, Cylon Centurion
      • RE: Facebook for Grownups: Can Microsoft, Apple or Google build one?


        Three words: Office Web Apps

        Never say 'never'.
        Dietrich T. Schmitz,Your Linux Advocate
  • RE: Facebook for Grownups: Can Microsoft, Apple or Google build one?

    Most of the people who have Facebook assume everyone else is on Facebook. There "Kids" and they still have the "attitude", and when the world comes crashing down on them they freak and refuse to believe what's in front of their face. Live and let die has become my attitude.
  • RE: Facebook for Grownups: Can Microsoft, Apple or Google build one?

    The Web 2.0 generation doesn't see privacy as a major concern. Blogging and Social Networks have come and people realize that they won't die if they're names and birth dates are known to the wider world. However, privacy aside I think many people are concerned that Facebook is losing the sense of maturity and neatness it once had. Facebook is turning into a giant arcade, just as Myspace did. The next great social network needs to STAY AWAY from Apps, period. They attract people, true, but the end up killing your site, it has been proven time and again that the web culture values conciseness and neatness. Google Wave is not neat, it's more of a forum/e-mail/messaging unit than a network, but I think Google has the opportunity to go social. All of it's attempts thus far have been failures- the two most obvious being Orkut and Buzz, but I think there's potential in enhancing the social aspects of Reader, using the Wave platform as a type of messaging/chat function, throw in location awareness from Maps and Google calender integration, and status updates of course then bam! It'd be a kind of gumbo of Google's products that are already showing signs of social feelers. As for me, a service like that would have everything I'd ever want from a social network, and no Farmville
  • RE: Facebook for Grownups: Can Microsoft, Apple or Google build one?

    stop whimpering like a kid and get on with ur life! the kind of mistakes u made with ur account in facebook drove u to write all these articles in the last 7 days! Even a 14 yr old kid would not make the mistakes u have done with ur account!
  • Five Facets of the Semantic Web

    Personal/Social Networking; Business Networking; Data Retrieval (Research, Forward Search); eTail (Shopping Carts, other Online Purchases); eCommerce (Private Transactions [Inverse Search]).
    joe cibula
  • Would Microsoft or Google buy Facebook?

    The nature of social networking, like any other networking, is that it provides the most value to its users if it extends to everyone. That rules Apple out since Apple will require purchase of its products in order to use the network. It will maximize value to Apple but not to customers.

    Facebook is a poorly-designed mess of software that is also badly managed, yet it's successful mainly because it built its following at a time when the alternatives were even worse. Now social networking is already becoming a mature technology, so Jason you're right, a mature company should run it.

    Not only has Facebook become a threat to privacy, but it simply doesn't offer as much value to us "adults" as it once did. Our teenage daughters aren't spending as much time on it either. What Facebook calls innovation is actually aimless scrambling to avoid losing its subscribers.

    But the Friends List we've built up over the past year or two still has value, and I am not sure I'd be willing to take the time to rebuild it on another platform unless there is real added value. So that makes me think the only hope for Facebook, and the only thing that will keep me from eventually closing my account, is if Microsoft or Google buy it.
  • RE: Facebook for Grownups: Can Microsoft, Apple or Google build one?

    Microsoft had the perfect opportunity in the social networking arena when they were building out Windows Live services, but they blew it at every turn. They never showed people how to use it, they never showed people how the services worked together, they'd release "me too" products that were vastly sub-par, then yank them because it had no popularity and not replace it with anything. I think it's been pretty clear that Microsoft doesn't know what they user wants, or worse, doesn't care and just does what they want to do regardless of what users think. I've watched Windows Live from the very beginning go from a good service with huge potential, to nothing but a half hearted attempt at "me too" services. Microsoft will *never* understand the social networking game.