Thursday, November 11, 2010

Where is Facebook headed next?

Or rather where I think they should head. Just one place that’s all. This is not going to be some exhaustive list that spans 10 points of what Facebook should do next to be the next big thing on the net and to make sure they stay relevant forever. No. As much as people can hate Facebook for some of the things they’ve done you still have to respect them in the way they play their cards which keeps them juggernauting over the competition.

So take a step back. I just want to take a look at Facebook’s timeline and watch how it has evolved to become what it is; a one stop eco system for your entire life. Don’t quite believe me? Fine I don’t support the whole deal of people living their lives out there on Facebook. People need to get out more yes. What I do mean by a one stop eco system is this,

In the past do you remember how you would plan out a trip with a group of friends? Even if it was just to the theme park a few blocks away. Or how about planning an outing even to a simple movie and a concert a little while after? Painful call after call, texting, checking, rechecking, planning and more planning and shifting plans. Today it’s a message on Facebook to the friends and there. Everything is on that thread.

You go on the trip and then you and your friends all take photos of each other. Back in the day it was an album uploaded on the ridiculously <sarcasm: “fast” /> Kodak photo service. Then there was Picasa and oh yes, Flikr. Now? Facebook. They even introduced support for high res photo uploads. Tag people, set visibility settings to just them. It actually does work that way. One stop.

You just got into university. Time to set up a group for the people of your batch. Oh and your sports teams, and yes that club you are involved in. You could use Google groups. Sure it’s good no doubt about that. You could use Groove. Still handy. But you know what was wrong with those services? Well not much was wrong with the service as there was with who used it. Rather, who DIDN’T use it. Personal experience has shown me that trying to get people onto Google groups will involve the steps of finding out their email addresses, mailing them, getting the ones who don’t have a Google account to setup a Google account. Of course there’s the pain of dealing with the less tech savvy ones (which is a given thing one HAS to account for. Geeks don’t usually do this with their technical snobbery). So they actually try and sign up for gmail accounts to get Google accounts and overall it’s a glorious mess. Now with the revamped interface for Facebook groups the choice should be pretty obvious. 500 million users, searchable by name for the most part, and you can add them without waiting for them to get online so that they don’t miss the update.

What about geo location? Used Foursquare? Used Latitude? Had to get your friends to sign on for those services as well? Sure those services could get people to sign in with their Facebook accounts but then why bother. Eventually every Facebook user will have their own Places account activated by default. By the way, just another example that Facebook is the one stop eco system, “sign in using your Facebook account”. But let’s leave that aside. Fact is, geo location which ties in with their groups, their comments, your friends (who don’t even have to be active users of Places), photo albums and everything else is now inside of Facebook. Yes. One stop.

Does the list stop there? I don’t think so. Facebook recently acquired the service drop.io. What’s that? A file sharing service? Well gee. Whadya know. No more sharing rapidshare, megaupload, 4shared links. No more signing up for all of that. No more visiting different pages. There you are, sign in to Facebook and you can upload and share straight from that. To put it in the words of Steve J. “Isn’t that wonderful?”

So what’s next? Well do you recall how buddy Facebook has become with Microsoft? Even the recent Bing partnership. There is something there beyond a casual relationship. So how about this? Google docs would be a norm for online document collaboration (Yes I know there are other services but just to keep the examples consistent). Yes again as with Google accounts, the moment you say Google accounts/docs, the non tech savvy guy goes “What’s that?” and “How?”. But what if there was document integration in Facebook itself. What if I could create and edit and share AND collaborate on documents within Facebook?

What IF I could upload a document to a group or store a file using the file sharing stuff I hope they do implement and edit it and share it within Facebook? What IF I could connect to Office live apps and work directly on that from my Facebook account? Sure the idea sounds a little strange. Is this the crowd that comes to Facebook? Is this what people want to do on Facebook? My answer… With 500 million users. Damn right they do.

As for the consequences. Well, for Facebook what it means is that it takes another step towards becoming your one stop corner for everything. For Microsoft. I think Steve Ballmer can tell you what 500 million users would do for him. As for me. I just think it’s a really exciting possibility. There could be even freemium services offered if this happened. Even more importantly, There’d be no headache of takeovers that Facebook would have to worry about. No headache of creating their own service. Nothing. It’s all there. Ready, and waiting.
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update : Few hours later when I checked tweets in the night looks like that prediction might have hit jackpot. Mary Jo Foley who breaks the Microsoft rumors as they come on zdnet posted this http://www.zdnet.com/blog/microsoft/not-so-crazy-microsoft-rumors-facebooks-new-e-mail-to-feature-office-web-apps-integration/7949 . Ah well. Like she said. Wait for Monday to see. 

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