Friday, February 26, 2010

Facebook Could Eat the Web

Facebook Could Eat the Web

Like almost everyone else on the planet, it seems, I am spending more time on Facebook than any other site. The lone exception is Google. The reason I know this is that Safari, my browser, lists Facebook as my most visited site when I access its top sites feature.
In addition to using Facebook to check in on what my family, friends and colleagues are up to, I have been using it as a newsreader for months. The screenshot below is my reader. This is something that the company suggested everyone do here. Although I suspect that most users haven't taken the steps top create a dedicated news list as Facebook suggests, there's not doubt that the social network is becoming a critical source of information. Yesterday, Hitwise published a fascinating report that illustrates just how large Facebook looms as a source for news.
But something bigger is going on here...Facebook is eating the web.
Yes, Facebook is becoming the web for millions and millions of people. As I have written before, there's already a wealth of amazing things you can do within the site without ever leaving. What's more, as I also speculated, the site giving rise to headless media companies like Zynga that don't need a web site to succeed.
In short, I believe Facebook is unstoppable. They aren't just the next Google. They're the next web.
Here's where I see things shaping up from here.
First, Facebook will move from being a solely place where people connect to each other to a site where people connect with businesses and, more importantly, the people who work for them, as I wrote yesterday. This, as my friend Robert Scoble, points out is an area where others dominate. But I expect Facebook will catch up fast. They will buy Yelp and/or Foursquare - or just implement similar technology - and become the yellow pages of the web.
Facebook may not even need to buy Yelp to make it happen. They are already slowly becoming the yellow pages. Everywhere I go I see signs like the one above telling us where we can find a local business on Facebook. In addition, last night during a fascinating session on the future of journalism (archived here), Sree Sreenivasan from Columbia Journalism School noted that movie posters don't have URLs anymore. They just tell us to go find them on Facebook. That's significant.
Second, Facebook will start to give web developers more tools to build entire rich micro-sites that exist solely inside the social network. Check out what 1800Flowers is already doing. Such a move will encourage more companies to focus 100% of their web marketing efforts on maximizing their Facebook presence. And why not? The site has 350+ million users, half of whom log in at least once a month. It's much easier to go where people are than to get them to come to you.
Third, Facebook will get serious about search. It's an untapped monetization pipeline that can bring in billions - especially when they couple social algorithms with crawlers. Phones too.
So what could derail Facebook? A lot. People could tire of it. But I don't see that happening. In fact, I see us putting more of our content inside Facebook and I see them making it all easily searchable and accessible from any device and leveraging connections to make it all even more powerful.
Now history says I will be wrong. AOL tried this and lost. But AOL did not have the algorithms and social connections that Facebook has in place, so I think we're in a different era. Facebook could eat the web or, perhaps more likely, become a parallel universe web. But, the question is this - will the web allow itself to be eaten or will two webs emerge? Time will tell.

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