When Facebook released their platform last year hundreds of thousands of developers jumped at the opportunity to build new applications, but after a year and a half I have to wonder who’s helping who. Facebook clearly presents a large opportunity for brands and developers looking to gain exposure. Companies build applications, and then get their products spread throughout the social graph. It’s a great opportunity and it’s not surprising that many have taken advantage of it.
The system is genius on the part of Facebook as well though. Developers build applications on Facebook’s platform and they’ll grant you access to their users’ identities (who are also your users) on a temporary basis. You’ll then share all the activity they are doing on your application or site with Faebook. The more you share, the more likely your application will be distributed through the social graph and the more your application will benefit.
Facebook gets to hold on to that data though. The most valuable data is that which Mark Zuckerberg continuously emphasizes: sharing. Facebook has the potential to take on practically every Web 2.0 startup that’s in existence at this point. Some of these have even promised to integrate with Facebook but the uptake hasn’t been that quick.
Facebook’s Funny Digg Relationship
Digg for instance was announced as a launch partner but as I wrote 2 weeks ago, the agreement with Digg may have been based on a guaranteed level of placement. If you think about it, who is really benefiting from Digg integrating Facebook Connect? Facebook clearly gets more data about what Digg’s millions of users are sharing but doesn’t Facebook already have a lot of that information from their more than 140 million users?
According to Facebook’s statistics page, “more than 15 million pieces of content (web links, news stories, blog posts, notes, photos, etc.) [are] shared each month.” With that amount of content flowing through Facebook there is a serious opportunity to create something much more robust than just being able to monitor what our friends are up to.
First thing that comes to mind is something that duplicates Digg. Right now there is tons of information flowing around Facebook which isn’t visible to us. Our newsfeed shows up with an article when two (and sometimes one) of our friends share something. Facebook can just create a news product which shows news that’s popular in various countries, states, companies, and any number of networks.
Facebook has a historically tight relationship with Digg but can you see Digg rushing into a relationship with Facebook when really all their doing is letting Facebook know about all the articles that their users are sharing? This information ultimately helps boost Facebook’s database. Digg doesn’t exactly get news articles in return, just potential exposure to new users.
Facebook’s Not Sharing Shared Items
The Facebook API provides developers with access to a lot of information but one thing it doesn’t provide access to is shared items. Facebook must have a reason for that and the only thing I can think of is that they plan on eventually launching their own news product. Every social news site on the web doesn’t have close to the number of users that Facebook does.
Given access to Facebook’s shared items would provide an instant business opportunity for a lot of developers. Facebook isn’t sharing that information though and as such developers are simply using Facebook for access to their users’ identities. That’s ultimately all Facebook Connect is: access to Facebook users’ identities. Facebook grants developers access to those identities in the hopes that you ultimately grant Facebook access to (“share”) their activity data.
It’s by no means an unfair exchange but what would be more fair is if Facebook grants developers access to other shared information. In essence if developers were all sharing information with each other, directly through Facebook, it would sound like a much better opportunity. Facebook would become a central repository (with bi-directional access) for all of Facebook’s users shared activities.
Isn’t that why the users shared the information in the first place? Instead it’s a one way track for user information and it ends at Facebook. Is that really a mutually beneficial relationship with developers?