In a very entertaining and pertinent post, Dave McClure says that Facebook isn't the new AOL (as Jason Kottke has suggested) but in fact can be compared to Microsoft's Visual Basic (VB). McClure's point is that Facebook's Platform -- like VB did for the Windows platform -- has significantly lowered the barriers to third-party development. Not for a desktop OS but for the web.
Facebook -- or more accurately, the Facebook Platform -- is the equivalent of Visual Basic for the Web.
Because it provides a simple & easy way for anyone --ANYONE -- to build a quick & dirty little app that can be deployed quickly on Facebook. Hell, i haven't coded anything more advanced than HTML in over 10 years, and *I* even got the basic tutorial app to run.
And it's certainly true that there are parallels to Windows and Facebook from a developers point of view -- and for users too. Developers -- as McClure says -- get a fairly easy programing environment that's well documented and allows developers to rapidly create apps that resemble the look and feel of the overall Platform. This creates a level playing field for developers, in terms of how their apps are perceived by users. Also, like Windows, developers get access to an installed user-base of millions. From a user's point of view, they get to choose from tons of apps -- with the list growing every day. And, as with windows, there becomes an inevitable amount of lock-in. Data export and app portability on Facebook is virtually non-existent. A user can't just take their user data -- including their social network -- and their favourite apps and run with them elsewhere on the web. Not dissimilar from migrating from one desktop OS to another. In this sense, AOL or Windows, the same evils of lock-in exist.
Then comes news of Facebook's first acquisition: Parakey, a Web OS company founded by Firefox co-founders Blake Ross and Joe Hewitt.
As Josh Catone over at ReadWriteWeb writes:
The big question is, what does Facebook want with Parakey? It seems fairly clear that Facebook wants their platform to become the OS for the web, but now it also seems that perhaps they want to be come the operating system period.
From what we know of Parakey's technology, it's an attempt to bridge the desktop and online worlds. From an IEE Spectrum article:
"Today, something like e-mail can involve two completely different experiences, depending on whether or not you’re using the Web -- Outlook versus Hotmail, for example. A Parakey e-mail program, on the other hand, provides a single access point for your mail, "unifying the desktop and the Web," in Ross’s words. Parakey is intended to be a platform for tools that can manipulate just about anything on your hard drive -- e-mail, photos, videos, recipes, calendars."
So could it be that Facebook isn't just like Microsoft, but actually wants to become Microsoft? Watch this space.