Facebook turns five today. The birthday evinces my first Facebook memory, which was sitting on the floor of a Boston dorm room of a nice southern girl I once knew who had the site open on her computer. She resided just beside Kenmore Square, across the river from Harvard where Facebook had been conceived a year or so earlier. Knowing what I know now, I would taken the Red Line across the Charles and asked the founder Mark Zuckerberg a question or two. Heck, back then, he might have even answered it.
Although, I think he had picked up and moved to northern California by then anyway (as I did some years later). And even if I had met him, I probably would have asked something regrettably glib or trite given my views of Facebook back then. At the time, you could have counted me among the skeptics. To me, Facebook was little more than a tool to bolster the already out of control, “look at me!” vanities of my generation. When I looked at those first Facebook profiles, I didn’t see much substance. I saw: This is who I like. Look at me, I can drink shots. This is who I’m in a relationship with.
If you only viewed Facebook at its surface, you could retain that conclusion today. But during the social network’s five year existence, I think this past year will go down as its most important. Facebook has made a range of decisions that could help it emerge as our starting off point on the Web much like Google is today or Microsoft (Windows) was for the desktop.
At the heart of this ambitious venture is the power of the Facebook Platform. The first major iteration of the platform saw an explosion of applications, most of which were (and still are) game-like in nature. They flourished at the expense of the end user until Facebook did a better job at moderating the growth. And while the apps themselves (with a few exceptions, such as the ones for causes) didn’t do much to bring about a sea-change in society, it did show that Facebook has the technology and smarts to manage a computing environment of such massive scale.
But the next iteration of the Facebook Platform could reveal just how powerful Facebook could become. Facebook Connect, as it’s called, allows Facebook users to log into sites around the Web with their Facebook user name and password. Connect culls information from users’ Facebook profiles and delivers it to their accounts on those third-party sites in just a couple clicks.
What makes this important is that these websites often hold much more broad value than the applications in the Facebook application directory today. (Sorry Facebook app developers, but they do). The ability to stream information from these sites back and forth from Facebook will make the individual websites more useful while adding more relevant information to what appears in a Facebook feed. Facebook also has thought seriously about how we do our work, partnering with Salesforce.com to bring business apps to the service..
These moves reveal that Facebook is maturing, that we might be approaching a time where we share helpful information instead of throwing cupcakes at each other, and the thought of that excites me. It’s not that I’m against fun and games (they shouldn’t go away from the Facebook environment); it’s just that it would be shame if Facebook failed to grow into anything more than that in the future.
So Facebook turns 5, and while Zuckerberg, myself and his original core constituency are all still in their twenties, the company is now middle-aged in Internet years. Facebook has the foundation in place to grow up and be what we think it could be, so let’s see if they can go make it happen this year.