Friday, October 19, 2007

Everybody wants to be a platform

Chris DeWolfe, founder, MySpace
Photograph copyright James Duncan Davidson.

I am at the Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco. This is the event where everyone wished they were a platform. Mark Zuckerberg explained how Facebook shall become the new platform for all the social activities on the web. Zuckerberg also described the notion of the ’social graph’. Zuckerberg said “it’s the set of conenctions that a person has in the world” and that Facebook is simply trying to map this. He said it’s about exposing people's connections, but respecting people's privacy. This was really a new concept for me and I think it will have great implications.
Tim O'Reilly, the chair of the conference, expresses a concern over how much Facebook will let third parties use the information generated on the site: "I do think that there are two views of the social graph, though, and how it gets deployed: there's a platform view in which it can be exploited to build smarter applications on Facebook; there's a deeper view in which the Facebook-discovered social graph can be accessed by other applications elsewhere on the net. Facebook's granular control of what information you reveal and to whom is thus a key part of the platform -- but the question is how far Facebook will go in letting other sites use this information. If Mark's answer is the first, Facebook is ultimately a closed platform; if the latter, it becomes a true open platform and value enabler."

Tim O’Reilly's comment is an important one. Will other applications and companies have access to the information on Facebook, or will Facebook be a "walled garden"?

Photograph copyright James Duncan Davidson.

By contrast, the conversation between Chris DeWolfe of MySpace and Rupert Murdoch of NewsCorp, on Wednesday evening, made clear that MySpace primarily thinks of itself as a media company. MySpace is primarily building a platform for people to manage their personal online presence. Basta.

Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook.
Photograph copyright James Duncan Davidson.

Facebook, on the other hand is thinking much more broadly about the future of the net. Zuckerberg: "The early guys who built the company, we discussed building the development platform before we actually built Facebook. It's been incredibly humbling to see all these people developing; we made a conscious decision that we wanted to release this very quickly. Let's get this thing out in the world and see how people are going to use. It's going to take 30 years - or tens of years - before this becomes a really mature platform. It's just been amazing."

"We're not really a media company... The types of stuff we build and the types of problems we solve are deeply technical problems. That's the sort of thing Facebook's going to be interested in building towards."

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