Facebook wants to own communication with your friends

While Facebook is a multi-faceted service that could grow in any number of directions, Facebook’s recent cues indicate that first and foremost on its mind right now is establishing itself as a communication platform. Facebook doesn’t want to become a content distribution system or an entertainment console as much as it wants to wants to become the dominant way you communicate with your friends.

This is not a short term goal that will instantly reap financial benefits. As some have recently pointed out, communication tools like email and IM have historically been difficult to monetize. Rather, it’s a long term plan that has the potential to significantly change how the world shares information.

I think Facebook and other social networks can create the most enterprise value by continuing to create new communication channels that provide better user experiences than what’s existed before – channels that are only possible because they own a large chunk of the social graph. On Facebook, this has been happening in a number of ways:

1. News Feed

In my opinion, the News Feed is Facebook’s greatest innovation to date. It has organized and filtered a large class of one-to-many messages like never before. Many types of messages that today are broadcast via Mini Feed and consumed via News Feed have historically (less efficiently) been broadcast and consumed via email: status updates, content sharing (links, photos), service referrals (applications, Pages, Beacon). However, Facebook’s ability to organize and filter these messages according to your personal preferences has made consuming them in great volume much more palpable and valuable than any email client or feed reader ever did. I really continue to believe that the News Feed has the potential to deliver greater value to the consumer than any broadcast channel ever built.

2. Messaging

Many people in tech circles can’t talk about Facebook’s messaging system without complaining about it, but even though it “sucks,” Facebook Messaging is replacing (or has already replaced) email with friends for many users (especially those under 21). Even though it lacks a feature set comparable to most email clients, the context for large classes of one-to-one messages is simply more important. As Facebook enhances the context around messaging, and builds more utility into the service, I think a greater portion of conversations currently conducted over email will move to Facebook.

3. Wall

Much of the same could be said for Wall. Its semi-public context has made it a more valuable channel than email for both the senders and receivers of messages that appear one-to-one but are often really one-to-many. (Facebook has tried to make the Wall into a media sharing platform as well, but apparently without much success.)

4. Chat

With the exception of Google Talk, it’s been years since most people have experienced an improvement in synchronous communication. While Facebook hasn’t announced any chat products yet, I wouldn’t be surprised if it did soon. Chat is just a better experience around your social network – most of the time, people want to talk with their friends. Just as Google Talk has probably significantly increased the number of people using IM, so could Facebook…downloading a client and exchanging odd handles is an experience that’s just too complicated for some people.

In the end, if Facebook wants to own the most valuable channels for communication with your friends, this could have significant implications for the Platform. It’s clear in announcements Facebook has made regarding upcoming changes to the profile page that Facebook is expanding the role and concept of the Mini Feed and Wall, while simultaneously dealing a blow to applications that may depend on significant profile page real estate to provide valuable communication experiences to users. If Facebook does indeed build a chat application, that could obviously hurt applications building chat around the Facebook experience. At the same time, however, Facebook has been promising to reward applications that enable valuable and meaningful interactions with greater visibility within the new Wall and News Feed.

While I hope Facebook can co-exist with and reward developers of communication-oriented Platform applications, I think Facebook is smart to want to own the most important channels used to communicate with your friends. While it may take a while to figure out how to monetize these new communication channels most effectively, people will always stay most engaged with services that provide the most value, and core communication tools are some of the services that can be most enhanced by ownership of the social graph.

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Leave a Reply

15 Responses to “Facebook wants to own communication with your friends”

  1. ashot says:

    They have announced IM

  2. It’s about interaction stupid! « Alexander van Elsas’s Weblog on new media & technologies and their effect on social behavior says:

    [...] trying to be the biggest content or entertainment platform, but instead tries to dominate as a communications platform. In his words, Facebook wants to “own”communication with your [...]

  3. Facebook Working on an IM Service says:

    [...] Facebook points out that all your communication are belong to Facebook Facebook wants to be your source for all communications with your friends, and chat would be a great way to do [...]

  4. David Ambrose says:

    Hey Justin,

    I just saw this post. You’re right on. I actually wrote about this communication dynamic in my undergraduate thesis:

    http://www.scribd.com/doc/100515/Virtual-Interactive-Communication-A-Bicultural-Survey-Through-the-Lens-of-Web-20

  5. Todd Sieling says:

    Nice roundup of Facebook’s communication modalities. I think all of this makes sense for them, and they really do wear this direction on their sleeve if we keep in mind the words on the homepage about how Facebook sees itself: a social utility that connects you with the people around you. The key to its adoption and its direction are in that one, simple statement, strangely the most transparent one they ever seem to make.

  6. Facebook’s ambitions says:

    [...] wants to be your primary communication with your friends. After messaging, an IM is on its way. Did you like this post? Send it to your [...]

  7. “I guarantee you one day there will be FA meetings…” « I Am Emily says:

    [...] A great article on this was posted here. [...]

  8. Writing and New Media: Zachary Tobolowsky » Blog Archive » Using Tufte’s Model to Face the Limits of Facebook says:

    [...] Smith, Justin. “Facebook wants to own communication with your friends.” Weblog post. Inside Facebook. 16 Mar. 2008. http://www.insidefacebook.com/2008/03/16/facebook-wants-to-own-communication-with-your-friends/ [...]

  9. Preventing and Recovering From Email Debt and Bankruptcy at Tech Generation says:

    [...] a Facebook message sabbatical since she’s into social networks and since Facebook wants to take over the world’s communication mediums so I looked her up on Facebook and her profile photo has the message “No FB msgs; email [...]

  10. Michel Demoor says:

    Waw great article.
    Within one year we’ve seen one important evolution; it’s not merely about your friends anymore (like the title says). It’s about you and your communication with the whole world. From networking oneself to publishing oneself and everything you do online. Amazing.

    I’ll come back here next year :-)

  11. Sparkling says:

    i dont like Facebook
    it lacks a common forum for all users to chat with each other
    to me, i think its not cool and not active
    sorry, my own opinion :D

  12. Lilliy Canfield says:

    I have macular degineration and some words such as the one you require to get a pass wood into your systemwas tomuch for me to handle. Now I cant get into the system becouse of the errors I made befor. I have may daughter inlaw helping and. she cnat get in either.
    all I need is a phone number to talk to a human being. I ame getting very frustrated .Please call me If you want to confirmmmmthe accuracy of my Email account send me a e mail with a phone number and I will call. My phe # is 928-692-3519.
    Lillie Canfield

  13. errked says:

    If someone con get back to me, that would be great. I Have had a face book acct. for a couple of weeks. A couple days ago I couldn’t log on . After hours of changing things and going in circles to only get nowhere. Finally I got back on line then today @ about6:30pm it happened again. What did I do and how do I change it? Thank you much, sincerely errked.

  14. Blog One « Is Social Networking Making us Superficial? says:

    [...] http://www.insidefacebook.com/2008/03/16/facebook-wants-to-own-communication-with-your-friends/ [...]

  15. Innovative Ways of Using Twitter says:

    [...] becomes more and more influential in term of communication and business. I have been using Facebook for the last several years, and I could not deny the fact that it is changing constantly to allow [...]

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