Release 0.9 : Notes for a Talk (Facebook)

I'm speaking tomorrow at the Web 2.0 NY conference.

What's new and exciting is pretty clearly Facebook ... Everyone from Marc Andreessen to Josh Kopelman so here are some notes for my opening comments before a Q&A. If I get good questions, I'll probably have more to add tomorrow!

I actually gave this talk several times some years ago, riffing off AOL and the walled garden, a concept that was current at the time. The people who complained about walled gardens were mostly concerned about businesses putting money barriers around content or access -- top-down control. But they also just liked the notion of the democratic, open web. Anyone could communicate with anyone ... but of course that meant that everyone could communicate with *you* -- tying up your inbox, sending you viruses, pretending not to be a dog or whatever ...

Eventually, I said, everyone will be able to create his own walled garden. The walls wouldn't be commercial (AOL's pay-for-access business model), I said, but social. You'll be able to choose your friends and the people who communicate with you, and you'll be able to solicit merchants rather than have them solicit you ...

That is now suddenly happening with Facebook. It allows people to create their own walled gardens, providing a platform that is open to users but lets them define their own world. Of course, they can create overlapping gardens, in a way that strains the metaphor.

The Facebook platform is also open to developers, as long as they follow certain constraints.

Three points:

It mirrors the world

It mirrors the real world, including the challenges of dealing with real people. The problems aren't Facebook's doing; they're the members' ... but Facebook will need to help us deal with them. Take the distant cousin who comes to your wedding and tries to sell life insurance to everyone he meets, or the college student who gets overly cozy with your 14-year-old daughter. Or in my case, recently I was at a party. A friend of mine, not invited, happened to be outside, so I brought him in with me. Half an hour later, I noticed another friend ... who it turns out had been invited by the first friend ... not exactly what I had in mind! especially when the second guy started to behave strangely (even though he is a friend!). I'll spare you the details.

Who's to blame? Well I shouldn't have invited the first guy in. But if it happened on Facebook, who would be to blame? Probably still me, but I might well blame Facebook. So, like it or not, Facebook is going to have to help people create filters, levels of access and so forth, with increasing granularity as people learn how to manipulate them.

The explicitness of these -- I rate him a level 2, but he rates me level 3 -- may be disturbing to some people. Of course, the ratings aren't disclosed, but there will be ways to figure them out ...

In real life, for most people, your work friends and your private friends probably know when to interrupt you and when not to. On Facebook, people haven't established and don't recognize those cues yet.

It changes the business model

It dramatically changes the business model for a lot of online businesses. Why set up shop on the Web when you can set up shop in a populated environment that makes it easy for your users to share? In the old days, if you wrote a word processor you had to develop your own printer drivers; now the operating system does it for you. Today, Facebook will do most of the platform; all you have to do is the specific application .. .and yes, manage the ensuing crowd of users and burst of activity.

It supports the attention economy

Facebook supports the attention economy -- as opposed to the purchase intention economy. Mark Zuckerberg said to me long ago (paraphrase): "The other guys think the purpose of communication is to get information. We think the purpose of information is to foster communication."

Think of Facebook not so much as information exchange as a place where you can establish and spread your presence, and get attention back. That's the currency of the future ... and it may or may not be directly exchangeable for money.

The remainder of the proof is left as an exercise for the reader.