Driving in my car today I came to the realization that the current race of the social platforms is still to own my contact list. How I got to this conclusion is slightly abstract but let me explain. Over the weekend I began using an amazing application called Remember the Milk. The application is a web based to do list. Not remarkably innovative in terms of their technology but what makes them so valuable is their accessibility.
Within a day I had installed a Firefox extension enabling me to place my to do list within my Gmail inbox and access it via my iPhone in an easy to use format. Now there is no syncing for my to do list anymore. It is simply always there with me and always updated. Have you ever thought about all the other things you constantly need to sync?
Building My Contact List
If you lose your phone, often times you lose your complete contact list. If you are one of the lucky ones that has a smartphone and has synced their device to their computer, you will be able to recover from your loss. What if I never needed to worry about any of this information disappearing ever again? Technically I can, thanks to Facebook.
I simply load up my Facebook application and there are all of my contacts all with updated contact information that they’ve updated, not me! This idea is not a foreign one to many who remember Plaxo but the problem with Plaxo was that they spammed your internet to get to your contacts. Facebook has instead developed a platform where so much interaction is taking place between your friends and family, you cannot avoid joining.
Facebook is the first company that has realized the most important feature of their platform is to enable people to track and group their contacts. Today I track my contacts via multiple sources: my Blackberry, my laptop, my iPhone, Salesforce.com, Facebook and LinkedIn. The only things that are occasionally in sync are my laptop and one of my mobile devices.
Contrast that with my to do list in which I am always in sync and can access anywhere. While Facebook has a platform for applications, I would argue that their “killer application” is still their ability to track your contacts, group them and have granular privacy features for each. Soon enough, any system that you grant access to will be able to call the Facebook API and get your contacts to improve your experience with the software or device you are interacting with.
Rather than tracking all of my contacts in Salesforce.com, it would be easier to track sales information about specific contacts. This includes things like: when did I last contact this person, what was my communication history with that person, etc. In their current form, “social platforms” exist as websites in which companies can build applications like games and dating apps.
I think that the existence of “social platforms” as websites in which we spend a large portion of our time on is simply a facade. Right now these platforms have enabled us to “waste time” and peer into our friends lives but during all of this time being wasted we have slowly build a more efficient version of our individual “social graphs”.
The Future for Facebook
Now was Facebook simply designed as a really elaborate scheme just to get all of my contacts? Perhaps but at some point the company got diverted. Users don’t want complex tools. They want simple ones that make their lives easier or more enjoyable. Just as Remember the Milk simplified my task list, Facebook could easily simplify my contact list and suddenly become the center for managing our contacts.
Is such a tool worth $15 billion? I’d imagine so if you have the majority of the world’s population in your database. If a large portion of the world’s information (which Google has attempted to index) is worth around $165 billion today, Facebook should easily be worth a 10th of that. How about photo storage, video storage, application hosting and payment processing?
I see those as separate entities for Facebook. The most important feature is the contact list. And as for the other social platforms, where do they fit in? I would suggest that most of the other platforms have a chance at competing but not even MySpace has an accurate representation of my social graph. Ultimately, the most valuable thing to the social platforms is the contact list.
Without an effective contact list, these platforms are simply another distribution channel for content. While that’s not a bad place to be, it’s a completely different focus.