Monday, October 15, 2007

Facebook is too narrow

The more predominant Facebook becomes, the more we gripe about it. It doesn't export my address book. It doesn't allow more than 5000 friends. It doesn't have good capabilities for classifying my friends (we call this tagging these days). Etc, etc.

Facebook has gone further than anything else as a platform for creating and sharing applications. Well, almost. Facebook is just a small slice of the Web. And the Web has gone further than anything else as a platform for creating and sharing applications. Okay, it's not yet as easy as sharing on Facebook. Yet.

This morning, in an interview for PulverTV (, I said that the direction is consolidation, to allow us to manage our online identities, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that my thinking was way too narrow.

What really has to happen is it needs to be easier to manage all of my online identities. I need one spot, one home page, where I can manage all of my identities. I don't want to enter the same details in every social networking site, but I definitely want to be part of a lot of them. I don't even want to log into them all on a regular basis -- and I don't want to have to add friends to each one separately. I don't want to have to announce to each network separately every time I update my blog.

What I want is a centralized personal portal, one that is:

  1. Extremely easy to use
  2. Allows me to use whatever applications I want to use, and
  3. Gives me an easy way to configure different sets of friends.

I will expand on each of the above.

  1. Extremely easy to use: Just like a blog site, MySpace, or Facebook, I want to be able to move information around, enter my own information, change colors, add my own fields, add applications, have private or public information, etc., on my personal home portal. This should not require any programming. Here Facebook has it approximately right.

  2. Application friendly: Wouldn't it be cool if my Facebook friends could also be my SecondLife friends? Seamlessly? What if I could choose Pandora as my music app, not something Facebook provides me? I want all of that, and seeing my friends' various status messages from all the social networks/blogs/microblogs. I want to be able to cut and arrange that in various ways, sometimes by topic, sometimes by network, sometimes by application, and sometimes by an individual person.

  3. Easy to configure: I want to be able to tag my different sets of friends in various ways, and give them access to different bits of information easily. At the very basic level, I have professional, personal, and intimate friends. My professional friends should not see my birthday cards or MMORPGs. I might have different blogs or tweets that go to all/personal/intimate circles. I might have different Amazon wishlists available to different groups of contacts. Once I define my own tags/categories, I can invite certain groups to particular events or to particular applications. I should be able to configure different look and feel for each group.
It goes without saying that all of this has to happen within one unified address book. I don't want separate address books and categories on each device and each social network. I don't want separate address books on Gmail, Outlook, Nokia, Facebook, and LinkedIn. I want one address book. I want each individual categorized with his/her tags, in the same way in each of those places.

If you add me to your network, I should be added to all the networks you and I are part of together, again, according to categories (I want to define that my professional contacts don't know I am a member of the Mud Wrestlers United network, even if they are there too.)

So that is where I think social networks are headed. I see the whole internet as one big social network. I think that the winner will be the platform that allows us to do that in one place. At this point, Google is the closest to creating that kind of experience, though Yahoo is a close second.

Because of its serious technical/design/support problems, I don't think Yahoo can gain the popularity for this leap. Google is still not a serious contender for corporate professional use, and they aren't fun enough for social networking. I envision this coming from a startup or from a platform that was designed for something else but evolves into this. I have doubt that Facebook is going to be able to scale up to this level, but if they are, they are also a serious contender.

Sadly, for me, this isn't going to happen for another 5-10 years, and I am stuck mired in management of my multiple personalities.

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