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The Future of Software Is… Facebook?!?!

Jon DiPietro

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Facebook is a cloud with a huge silver lining

By now, you’ve heard all the hype about Facebook; how fast it’s growing, how vast its membership is, how much content is uploaded, how much time is “wasted”, etc…  But two things have happened this week that have really caused me stop and say, “Whoa.”  The reason?  It’s becoming clear to me that Facebook as a delivery mechanism for software applications is going to be a real game changer.

The “Whoa” Moments

The first moment was last week when it was well past the “old fogies’ bed time” and my wife, for some reason, was still down stairs.  I went down to see if there was a problem and discovered that she was in the middle of a strawberry harvest on Farmville and had to finish it.  The interesting point here is the years of jibes and ribbing I received when I was in the middle of a game and would report that I’d be at the dinner table after I finished “one more level.”  The tables had turned and this is actually an important business lesson.

The second moment was a couple of days ago when I found that one of my all-time favorite games, Civilization, is coming to Facebook next year.  Online gaming has been around for a long time, but this is different and significant.  Cooperative gaming has always been plagued by network issues that only geekiest gamers were equipped to handle, which greatly limited the addressable market.    Also, there was the infrastructure.  The game companies were forced to make massive investments in infrastructure (World of Warcraft) to host the games on their servers before they would really know if the games would take off. Many of the games on Facebook are small in scope and relatively simple.  To the best of my knowledge, Civilization is the first “mainstream” game with a large, fanatical following to jump on to Facebook and it’s going to be interesting to see what happens.

These two incidents together exemplify the true power of Facebook and every software company, and every business, needs to pay attention.  Here’s why.

Batteries Included

The first and most obvious benefit is the built in infrastructure of cloud computing in general.  Using Facebook’s development platform, you can write the software and use their servers.  Where Facebook is different from other cloud options is that their “infrastructure” includes built in networking capabilities like sharing, advertising, and inviting.  For the non-hardcore gamers in the audience, one of the things that we love to do is take screen shots of our successes and post them to forums and file sharing sites.  This is something that is done immediately and seamlessly on Facebook.

FarmVille

The Center for Disease Spreading

Viral marketing.  It’s a well known term and it’s something that has been studied, written about, and attempted time after time.  There are many theories and approaches to “going viral” but one thing is obvious; they need a medium to spread.  Facebook offers a built-in medium for spreading ideas and products virally.  Of course, the network is not enough to get something and that’s where the secret sauce comes into play.  Malcom Gladwell’s “Tipping Point” is the classic tome of viral messaging, but my personal favorite is “Made to Stick” by Dan and Chip Heath.

Crossing the Chasm

My wife never played a computer game in her life until last week.  In fact, she was down right hostile toward them.  How did she get started?  Our daughter Jacqueline sent her a request for help in Farmville and off she went.  At first blush, this may sound like a simple rehash of the built in viral marketing discussion, but it’s deeper and more important than that.  Her decision to start playing this game has its roots in a deep emotional connection with her child, something into which it’s very difficult to tap.  It demonstrates the platform’s ability to leverage the social connections between friends to get people to buy into things they otherwise never would have considered.

Don't underestimate the influence of pornography on "legitimate" business trends

Don't underestimate the influence of pornography on "legitimate" business trends

They’re “Just Games”

Up to this point, you may be thinking this all well enough but they’re “just games” and don’t apply to my consumer product company, or magazine, or business to business service.  The first thing I will point out is that the influence of “entertainment” on technology is under appreciated.  And by “entertainment” I mean games and porn.

Seriously.  In the early days of the web, nothing drove the modem and data compression markets more than the pornography market.  Gaming pushed hardware and software limits to the max.  And let’s not forget the Beta versus VHS wars.  If you’re interested in more examples (come on, you know you are… it’s OK) you can check out “iSex: How pornography has revolutionised technology.”  The take way here is that any business can these entertainment trends as a crystal ball into the mainstream future.

Conclusion

This is the portion of our show where I put up or shut up.  Here are some glimpses into the future that I would be working toward if I were in any of these industries:

  • Consumer Products Example: Nike is already half way there, but may have jumped the gun a bit with their Nike+ product line and web site.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see a Facebook app from Nike that allows people to upload their iPod data through a Facebook application and share it on their wall.  You could then create running networks where people compete with one another virtually by creating goals based on distance, time, etc…
  • Publishing Example:  What if the Associate Press created an application that would allow friends to create their own “magazines” by simply grabbing posts, links, and photos from their walls to be assembled and published on their web site.  They could create their own branding and be indexed by search engines.
  • Maintenance Business Example:  If I owned (or advised) a landscaping or home maintenance company, I would look into creating a Facebook application that allowed you to enter in the specifics of your home like region, grass species, lawn size, heating system type, etc…  The application could then build a maintenance plan with reminders and the occasional “special offer.”

That’s enough for now.  If you want more ideas than these, you’ll have to pay up…  :)

Or, feel free to propose your own Facebook game-changing application in the comments.

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