In my recent post 'More thoughts on Facebook's new platform', I likened the social network's new offering as having similar traits to an operating system: embracing third party developers who are given the hooks to build apps that take advantage of a unified UI, and large installed user base.
I concluded by asking where this approach leaves the rest of the social web:
One other thought: where does this leave the ’small pieces, loosely joined’ philosophy of the net? If everybody sets up shop in Facebook, keeping all the action inside the social network site, where does that leave the rest of the web?
In a less flattering analogy, Paul Kedrosky describes the Facebook Platform as the Microsoft Office of social apps.
... none of the apps are particularly good -- photo sharing, status updates, personal pages, events, groups, etc. -- let alone being as good as their standalone counterparts... but most people don't care. They just want their social software all in one place, all from the same interface, and then they want to move on and get their (social/presence) work done.
To go one level deeper, like Office, Facebook has an operating system substrate to create lock-in. Where in Windows it's about sharing file format compatibility across apps and sharing some crummy UI features, in Facebook it's about sharing social/presence data across apps, and ... sharing crummy UI features.
Kedrosky might be onto something in comparing Platform to a suite of applications, but I don't consider Facebook's UI as "crummy", and some of the apps are equally as powerful as their stand-alone equivalents.Here are the five most popular Facebook applications, as of this morning.
- iLike integrates the music social network and recommendation service into your profile (see my previous coverage of iLike). Adding music-based social networking to Facebook makes perfect sense, and is something they could have easily done themselves. That's what makes the company's Platform strategy so intriguing. Mike Arrington (over at TechCrunch) also notes the omission of Last.fm which is arguably the best-of-breed of music-based social networks.
- Horoscopes (by RockYou!) adds twice-weeky horoscope readings to your profile.
- The Compass (by the Washington Post) involves taking a survey that determines your political compass. The results are then displayed on your profile. It's a fun idea, but hardly qualifies as an 'application'.
- Games adds multiplayer web-based games to Facebook: "Play games and meet new people in your networks! Add the Games application to get access to a constantly changing selection of fun multi-player games, all right in your browser." Pretty obvious but neat idea that has the potential to take traffic away from dedicated web-based gaming social networks. If the games are any good that is.
- Picnik adds basic photo editing functionality to Facebook. Considering that the social network has been reported as the largest photo-sharing site on the web, giving users the ability to re-size, crop, and enhance their photos without leaving the site is a smart move. Although again, it seems like the kind of thing Facebook should have done themselves.
As you can see from the above list, two of the apps barely qualify as widgets (Horoscopes and The Compass), whereas iLike and Picnik add very powerful features which enhance Facebook's values to such a degree that it's a statement of intent that Facebook didn't choose to roll their own or achieve the same end through acquisition.