John

2009: The Year Facebook Grows Up

In Online on January 2, 2009 at 9:38 am

socialgraph

(Pic from ibiblio)

So we’ve started on the New Year, and already some are wishing for a time machine that’ll skip 2009 entirely and straight into 201o–the year, when optimistically the economy starts to recover. For tech startups, 2009 is going to be high and dry, with MarketWatch tech columnist Therese Poletti writing that the Web 2.0 boom is over. “If you are a software entrepreneur working on yet another inane social networking application, perhaps you should switch gears, give up, or keep your day job.”

While the past few years have consistently introduced web-altering free-to-use social applications, it’s highly doubtful that we’re going to have a breakout web service like YouTube in 2005, Facebook in 2006, Twitter in 2007/08. All these services brought the web to a new social level, were free, and are now a part of our everyday lives. Unfortunately, they all had poor monetisation plans, with the rare exception of MySpace, which was bought by Fox and was thus handled in a “Big Media” sorta way.

While “monetisation” did become Web 2.0’s buzzword towards the 2H of the year, the realisation comes too late now that global advertising dollars is expected to drop in 2009. But, as Jason Calacanis constantly iterates, entrepreneurs “build value during downtimes”; so as Web 2.0 (gosh, I hope people will stop using that term) comes to a hushed pop, this is the year Social Networking, especially Facebook, incubates and matures: If Facebook was an anti-social fresh grad in 2008, it’s going to be a suit-and-tie, backslapping corporate man in 2009.

This take from Alisa-Leonard Hansen, a Senior Social Media Analyst, is definitely refreshing from usual “Where’s the money?” rhetoric repeated by the cynics at The Register (great news site, just wished they were less cynical about things). Yes, we’ve known for months now that Facebook was overvalued by Microsoft at around $300 per user; yes, we know that Twitter doesn’t have a revenue generating model, and yes, we know YouTube isn’t a shining beacon of profitability.

But what’s the solution?

Thanks to Violet Blue’s roundup of Sexiest Geeks of 2009, I came across Alisa-Leonard Hansen’s Blog, Socialised. (And yes, she’s kinda hot in a geeky way.) The big thing that she pins on to happen next year? Data Portability and Facebook Connect. Or, more specifically in her own words: “Facebook Connect becomes BUZZWORD OF THE YEAR for 2009.”

While I’ve heard of Facebook Connect (FBC), I didn’t really give it much thought until reading her post. “Oh, here’s another way to log into my Digg account,” I thought. Nifty, convenient. Not that life changing. That, however, turned out to be just the tip of the iceberg.As she writes in “How Will Users Feel About Facebook Connect?”

What do you think about being able to access your social graph just about anywhere? Imagine, graph data (friend data) layered into your e-shopping experiences (hey, Jenny purchased this t-shirt, or Bob recommends this album), or into your search experience (Ted visited this link) or how about being able to see what music your Facebook Friends downloaded from iTunes? Would you be into it? Or is this all a little too Minority Report? Let me know what you think…

The potential for FBC  is AMAZING. I’ve logged on to The Insider and The Forum by CNN using it, and I can see the future stretching before me. One day, I’ll log on to Facebook, which will then connect to my shopping sites, news sites, music sites, blogs, where I’ll get to see my other Facebook friends who’ve logged on and see what they’re listening to, buying into, commenting on, reading up, etc. FBC has the potential to unify the web–by connecting different social graphs, I’ll bring my FB social circle along with me to the FBC-compliant site. No need to individually register for each website/niche social networking service. No need to create a new social graph with each new service.

This was the trouble that plagued many social networking sites that tried to emulate MySpace or Facebook on a more niche scale. There were too many identities to manage, and more problematically, new social circles had to be formed–which led to some sites like the old KLue to becoming a virtual ghost town of empty profile pages and question marks in place of profile pictures.

What excites me also is the idea that logging on to a local classifieds site like MySimplifieds using FBC will give users the ideal balance between Brand Experience and User Expectations. In other words, by using FBC, I’ll get information/advertising that’s within (1) the context of the site I’m browsing, and (2) my social circle. Hyperlocal and contextual advertising: Isn’t that the holy grail of advertising?

This slideshow by Alisa explains it perfectly:

Another great point she brought up on this article on Mashable was how Facebook can monetize itself–not by selling ads alone, but the data within Facebook itself. Since Facebook came out of the walled garden mentality early last year by signing up into the Data Portability Workgroup, they’ve expanded one new, uncharted horizon for revenue that wasn’t there during the Beacon experiment: sharing your FB social data with partnered FBC websites.

For example, say you’re logged onto The Forum by CNN using Facebook, and there, on CNN’s site you’ll get contextual advertising based on your Facebook data. So all together, CNN gets ad revenue, FB pockets money from your social data, advertisers get a highly targeted demographic, and the user gets relevant ads. The potential’s scary, isn’t it?

As Alisa explains in her post “Dear Facebook, Don’t Forget The Marketers“:

With Facebook Connect, you can essentially create a content network (and note the launch partners, major media companies) that could also support an ad-network. So now, with a Facebook Connect-enabled content/ad network, you have the holy grail of targeted advertising: contextually relevant content experience AND the kind of granular targetability based on user graph data that made the initial promise of social networks so huge for marketers. Basically, participating FBC sites could not only sell targeted ad inventory based on their content, but based on Facebook’s (opt-in) user data as well. This would not only give marketers what they want in terms of targeting, but you would get a cut of the ad revenue for being the arbiters of that valuable graph data.

Of course, even without a potential FBC ad-network, Facebook Connect helps brands and publishers provide a socially enhanced experience for their customers with a lower barrier to adoption than current one-off branded social networks. Not to mention, FBC enables the potential to drive a lot of new traffic to their site as a result of opt-in user actions (including purchases) being broadcast through the Facebook network.

Where’s FBC on the roadmap now? It’s still in its early stages, but already some interesting ideas are being employed–one example is how The Forum by CNN allows comments left on CNNs site to be published on your Facebook wall. For a list of sites that are trying out FBC, check out Allfacebook.com’s list here.

So, who needs breakout startups when you’ve got Facebook to handle your social web?

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  1. Hi John, thanks for the nod….this year should get pretty interesting for data portability and the Identity 2.0 battle…

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