As a lover of an open future for the web, I'd like to make a deal with Facebook: go focus on your super sophisticated ad platform, and give us your social graph. First background: I've written a few times in the past on how I feel about The Facebook Platform and the problems I see with it, but it's not because I'm against the idea of a social graph. In fact, there are some amazing points made in Brad Fitzpatrick's manifesto for an open source social graph -- points I, as the producer of a socially enhanced platform, can actually feel good about.
The problem with Brad's post, as I mentioned on Charlie O'Donnell's blog, is that it can't be done. Hate to say it, but it really can't. It's too complicated a project and too many self-interested parties are too far ahead. Getting it built and adopted would be a monumental task. However, recent news that Facebook is in the process of building a killer ad platform to match its social graph leaves us an opening.
Riffing off of Darren Herman's analysis of the ad platform, I commented that while there's real brilliance in this plan, I don't think Facebook can be both a graph and an ad platform: they'll end up in 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.
So, which does Facebook want to be? If I was in their position, which would I bank on for the long-term? Graph or ad platform for the graph?
I'd take the ad platform, for sure (and I think I know which one Friendster would take too). If Facebook want's to be "the next Google," then they need to see that their real future is in being the AdSense for the next generation, making that silly $10 billion valuation look like peanuts.
And where does this leave us? With the graph part of the equation being jettisoned out to the open source community of course! Jettisoning the graph starts to accomplish the things Fitzpatrick calls for without the adoption and development problems starting from scratch would pose. And, if we've learned anything about the Internets, an open source graph jump-started with Facebook would undoubtedly have a longer, more wonderful future than the private company could possibly manage itself. Lastly, an open source social graph would enhance my favorite application development platform: the Internet.
Down with the Walled Garden! Up with the open source social graph! Long live Facebook the social graph-powered Ad Platform!