It has been a pretty dynamic couple of years for Facebook. With Facebook Connect, the integration of the Like/Recommend buttons on every page of every blog and business website, Facebook Places, and now the email/messaging upgrade...a huge shift in the web is happening right now. I hadn't really been able to pinpoint my thoughts about this shift until fairly recently when the Facebook messaging announcement hit.
We buy stuff. We sell stuff. We manage our finances. We consume news and do research. We talk with our friends and family. We search. We book flights and hotels. We share. We play games. We do business. We look for jobs. We look for people to hire. We laugh. We cry. We download the latest hot wing recipe from our favorite southern U.S. locale. None of this stuff would be taking place without humans. Where are all the humans?
They are on Facebook.
As of February of this year, one hundred million plus users were using Facebook Mobile, allowing them to be pushing content and interacting with the site regardless of where they are. When people are hiking in the woods, they are on Facebook. When they are grocery shopping, at a kids soccer gamer, buying food at a pet store for their cat, or perusing cars at a dealership, they are sharing those experiences via mobile. People that are on top of a mountain about to tear up the slopes on their new snowboard, are pushing their pre-run photos and videos up to Facebook just before their descent. They even film their descent down the mountain and post that video when they get to the bottom.
In my opinion, one of the major things left that we haven't really pulled off yet with the web is to take all the cool stuff we do online every day and tie it together into one consolidated web/data experience. Love or hate how that sounds, I speculate that this goal or approach has to at least be floating around in the minds of the Facebook powers-that-be.
A New Role for Old Online Solution Tech Companies?
While looking at websites like eBay, Google, Bing, LinkedIn, various well known online tech pubs, and other tools/services, I have recently started to look at these companies different than before. Their technology and innovation might soon possibly be vying for real estate within the Facebook ecosystem and it's framework. One of the biggest virtual land grabs in web history will be happening before we know it (if it hasn't started already). With Facebook's apparent and aggressive "technology tractor beam" business strategy looming overhead, casting a shadow over all the major online businesses like an alien mothership, these sites that we use are looking less and less like independent businesses to me. Instead, they're starting to look like giant bolt-on ideas for services that are now starting to feel more like a snapshot of Facebook's future product release roadmap. Bing search results are already integrated with the Facebook search results template. Wikipedia is fueling the community pages. It feels like the writing is on the wall. What do you think?
You have all these big players that were (and for the most part still are) innovators in specific areas of web technology and its history. They have helped define what it means to be online. But nowadays, the web is utilized in a way that really serves the people and the people know it and they continue to ensure that it continues. Facebook numbers and activity make that pretty clear. The paranoid or cautious may think that Facebook might possibly try to widgetize every aspect of your online activity. I don't rule out this future possibility. If that happens, Facebook will have one of the most comprehensive data sets about individual human beings that anyone has ever seen. That would be some powerful stuff. Scary? Maybe.
What I think...
I think at some point, maybe 5-10 years out, companies like Google, Bing, eBay, et al, will be viewed more as a bolt-on service or technology option that Facebook will thumb through like vinyl at an old record store, picking and choosing what they need to serve their big picture. They might acquire some of them, others will be licensed for all or a portion of their features and technology.
Facebook will probably continue to strive to give the people what they want (or at least what they think the people want), but in doing so will they inadvertently homogenize the web for us without even realizing it?