Facebook is standing at a critical juncture. If it turns one way, it could reach its grandest ambition â€” to be the Google of people. If it turns the other way, it risks becoming the next AOL or Yahoo â€” the next has-been. And in a delicious bit of theatre, it is Google that has presented Facebook with this choice.
Google has announced a new feature â€” Friend Connect â€” that will enable people visiting any participating site to see who among their friends also visits that site. Friend Connect will know who our friends are because we will tell it, allowing the programme to pull our connections from social networks such as LinkedIn, Bebo or Facebook.
Not so fast, said Facebook, which shut the door on Google, arguing that this violated its terms of service. Google carefully explained in a blog post how it was using the data within Facebookâ€™s rules. Then Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg said he needed to talk with Google. Google is calling Facebookâ€™s bluff about its role in the social internet: does it want to be an open platform?
I would like to augment my identity around the internet, pulling it together with my blog, Flickr photos, YouTube videos, Twitter feed â€” and connecting with friends to find our common interests. Iâ€™d like Facebook to help enable that. But Facebook is concerned about its control â€” including its ability to ensure my privacy and the quality of my experience there.
That is the choice Facebook faces: openness v control. That quandary is not unique; every media company is now facing the same choice in the Google age. Google values openness so it can search you and send audience to you.
The bloggers predicted that users would revolt against Facebookâ€™s efforts to control their friendship data. Haque expressed that as a law: â€œAs interaction explodes, the costs of evil are starting to outweigh the benefits.â€ That is, when people can talk with, about and around you, stopping them from doing what they want to do is no longer a winning business strategy.
In old business, control won. In the Google age, openness wins. That is the fork in the road that Zuckerberg faces. Heâ€™s not alone. It is the same choice that every business trying to understand the future faces.