I was right. Facebook is spun.

June 10, 2008   

I. Told. You. So. I don't mean this lightly. You just should have listened.

For the past year, I've been consistent on my Facebook call: it's been a short call and a call for change. Everything we've been seeing and will continue to see show that I'm right.

Dating all the way back to October of 2006, I expanded on Evan Barlett's excellent post and declared that Facebook would need to follow four of their own rules to rule the world. They broke all four.

Then, I warned that Facebook's quest for ubiquity would be challenged by a simple rule of the Internet: Things Change. As more and more successful niche social networks pop up, and projects like DiSo emerge, the concept of ubiquity is looking shallower and shallower for Facebook. New and better things will always come. I bookmarked Scott Heiferman's smartly worded post about Facebook's pending platform and his experience working on AOL's platform.

Then the Facebook Platform hit. Everything was supposed to be different now, and indeed it was. For the first time, I, and millions of other users, reported that using Facebook felt like wasting time. Application invite pruning was a pain. Without restrictions on invites for the earliest applications, Facebook was mayhem. This post by Fred Wilson captures precisely how people felt at the time.

As late June of 2007 rolled around, other folks started warning about the Facebook Platform strategy. "Walled Garden" and "AOL 1997" were the most appreciated epithets.

Then I went to a Facebook Platform hackathon and got really freaked out. (You should re-read that article if it's been a while). It was clear that folks weren't thinking about the long term impact of developing on Facebook's platform. They weren't covering their bums in case Facebook would change the way they treated developers (and of course that day did come). Facebook's platform, I'd argue, was a bad deal for most developers.

Anyway, by the end of July, I was also on top of another trend: Facebook apps weren't getting near the attention from users first imagined. While folks were installing apps left and right, I found that they weren't using them. I say "found," by the way, because O'Reilly confirmed this first 3 months later with some data on app usage and then again 7 months later, in its widely publicized white paper on the Facebook Platform).

Given my developing opinion on the Facebook Platform, chose August of last year to suggest a better path for Facebook. "Give us our social graph!" I said, "and you run the ad platform."

Remember that was August, and I said that Facebook trying to run both a social ad platform and a social graph would bring them a "Google-like quagmire, where the balance between being a personal information bank, public information bank, and advertising platform becomes nearly as tough as keeping everyone satisfied in a bona-fide thrupple."

Lo and behold, that happened. Facebook's Beacon program was the young company's biggest disaster yet.

But even before the Beacon disaster, I could tell a change was coming. In my most popular post in this series, I said that Facebook was indeed "a fad." My point was due to looming trends, Facebook's platform would have to make a dramatic shift in strategy in the coming months, the results of which would be a Facebook unlike the one it was and wanted to be. Openness would win, I said, and win it would.

However, in my most favoritest coverage of this whole thing, math dealt a mighty blow to the Facebook Platform. Indeed, I loved Andrew Parker's report that Facebook apps were being sold off at a dollar per user. My own analysis of Web 2.0 Valuations, says a normal web application should get $20 per user! Was it 20X easier to acquire a user on Facebook? Perhaps in one light. But it was also 20X more crowded by then.

And so, by early this year, the Beacon scandal had come and left the company without a coherent social ad strategy, Facebook announced it would start bouncing apps off the front page of profiles, and to finally put a cork in it, Slide, the platform's largest application creator, announced it would stop building new Facebook applications and would instead focus on building value with their existing ones.

Now, over a year after the platform has launched, I just have to sit here and say, "I told you so."

Why did I take all this time to type out this post to taunt you? Because all throughout, my critizism of the platform has been consistent, so I think there are key lessons you can take away. I always screemed about the value of being open and that not being open would catch up with Facebook. What more, I have been consistent about separating the ad platform from the graph. This is so important, and so if Google can learn something from Facebook (and Facebook from itself) it's to find way to separate the two. It will bolster user-trust, not harm it, and in the end you'll get more value.

Finally, it clear that Facebook, as we knew it last summer, was a fad. It's changing shape quickly, and not everyone is happy.

Who knows where Facebook goes from here. All I can say is that they've spun their self into the land of uncertainty. They need to reassure platform developers there's value in the platform and they must make an effort to reassure the users who feel violated each time a new feature is released.

How they do that remains to be seen.

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