September 18, 2011
@ 07:39 PM

Yesterday I was reading an article titled Why Facebook is the New Yahoo by Mike Elgan which argues that Facebook adding features driven by its competition with Google+ “smacks of desperation”. The article’s core argument is excerpted below

The only way for Facebook (or any online service for that matter) to succeed is to re-invent itself. Facebook is scrambling to do so, trying this, trying that, desperately looking to thrill users with expanded engagement with existing social graphs. And Facebook has failed again and again.

Facebook tried to become the default e-mail client for members when it rolled out Facebook Messages, which enabled people to use a e-mail address. Remember that?

Neither do I. Nobody uses it.

Then Facebook saw that FourSquare and Groupon were gaining some traction with social location check-in and coupons, and so it launched Places and Deals.

Nobody cared, and Facebook killed both of them.

Facebook would get a huge boost from usage on tablets -- tablets and social networks were made for each other, because they’re both used in the same way at the same time (most heavily while at home during leisure time). Yet Facebook has failed to come out with a tablet app, even though the iPad shipped a year and a half ago!

Now Facebook’s desperate new strategy appears to be: Just copy Google+.

I always find it interesting that different people can look at the same data and come to very different conclusions. The reason Facebook has 750 million active monthly users today and is widely presumed to one day get to a billion active users is because it constantly reinvents itself. The problem for authors like Mike Elgan is that Facebook has bucked the traditional narrative for big technology companies.

The tech press loves the innovators dilemma or disruptive technology narrative. Tech press loves to tell the story of a scrappy young company that comes from the blind spot of some big entrenched company to become dominant itself. They also love tearing down that same company a few years later when another scrappy young upstart shows up. This narrative is with us constantly; from Google’s social blind spot leaving an opening for Facebook to RIM being disrupted by touch-based smartphones with thriving app platforms. Even better for the story is when the upstart is a “web” company versus a bricks and mortar player such as Netflix versus Blockbuster.

The challenge for the tech press when it comes to Facebook is that the company deeply understands this narrative. After all Facebook was the usurper to MySpace in the classic tale of entrenched major player being disrupted by scrappy upstart. Facebook has their ear to the ground when it comes to potential usurpers and quickly moves to blunt their momentum often by what many have described as copying features. There are numerous examples of this including

The problem for tech watchers is that Facebook doesn’t let the innovator’s dilemma narrative get off the ground. Before too many could get hooked on social Q&A, check-ins or more interaction in the  news feed, Facebook made sure its users associated those features with their site. One could argue that the lack of mainstream penetration of Quora, FourSquare and FriendFeed is partially because the bulk of their offering is already available on Facebook so it’s hard to imagine how to argue to a mainstream user that you should use those sites when they already get that functionality on Facebook.

Therein lies the problem with Facebook. By definition, Facebook can’t go as deep on any of these scenarios as dedicated sites which means users are introduced to slightly watered down versions of a number of these new ideas as they have to still fit into Facebook’s site structure and core goals. However there’s just enough functionality provided by Facebook for people to either be satisfied with the experience (i.e. no reason to join FriendFeed when all of that functionality is on Facebook) or to decide they dislike it even if the feature doesn’t go as deep as it could (i.e. Facebook Places versus FourSquare). The latter is particularly pernicious because it means interesting new startup ideas don’t really get a chance to blossom before the mainstream is introduced to them.

I’m reminded a little of the world of RSS readers. A few years ago there was a lot of innovation in client RSS readers from commercial offerings like FeedDemon and NewsGator Inbox to home grown projects like RSS Bandit. However, RSS was eventually added to the big gorilla in client communication tools; Outlook. When this happened a lot of the innovation in this space dried up and it didn’t take long for Outlook to become the dominant RSS reader. This is despite the fact that Outlook didn’t go nearly as deep in the RSS reading technology it provided compared to dedicated RSS readers.

I see the same thing happening with Facebook when it comes to a number of social software ideas and it makes me a little sad to think about what we’re losing even though we are gaining the convenience of a one-stop shop for social.

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Categories: Social Software

Yesterday I gave a talk about how Metro style apps and websites can take advantage of the fact Single Sign On (SSO) with Windows Live ID in Windows 8, announced the availability of the Live SDK for Windows Developer Preview and Windows Phone and demoed some of the upcoming Windows Metro style apps that are built on the same platform. You can watch the talk embedded below and you can go here to download the video in various formats or download the slides.

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I’m currently at the Microsoft BUILD conference where I’m slated to talk about some of the work my team and others at Microsoft have done in making it easy for Metro-style apps to leverage Live services like Windows Live ID, SkyDrive, Hotmail, and Windows Live Messenger. I’ve been pretty busy at work as regular readers of my blog can tell given my last post was in July. The past few months have been exhilaratingly fun and crazy hectic as well. It’s great to finally be able to share some of the work we’ve been doing with the world.

If you’re interested in learning more, I recommend visiting which contains links to the Live SDK and talks about a number of key developer concepts that were introduced in the Windows Developer Preview.

If you’re at the conference, I’d recommend attending my talk and some of the other talks listed below

Power your app with Live services
Windows 8 enables users to log into any device with a single Microsoft account and continuously interact with your app on all of their devices. Your customers will expect the ability to bring their documents, photos, videos, and contacts with them as they move between their devices. Come see how you can enable great on-the-go experiences by integrating Live services into your app. You’ll learn how to take advantage of single sign on using a Microsoft account instead of creating your own authentication infrastructure. You’ll also see how to use the SkyDrive service for free cloud-based storage of your customers’ photos, videos, and documents. We’ll dive into the details of the Live SDK and show how to use Visual Studio to easily enable these experiences

The complete developer's guide to the SkyDrive API
More and more users are becoming familiar with the concept of "the Cloud." More than ever, users are storing their data in the Cloud. SkyDrive is one of the world's leading cloud storage and document collaboration services. Learn how you can easily allow your users to read and write documents, photos, and other files from/to their SkyDrive via simple REST APIs

Create experiences that span devices
Your customers will expect your app to deliver a continuous experience even as they switch between apps and move between their devices. Come learn how to ensure your customers never lose their place in your app even when it is moved to the background or accessed on a new device. You will also discover how to enable customers to personalize your app with settings and ensure those settings flow automatically to all of their devices. We will show you how you can enable this continuous, cloud-powered experience with only a few lines of code.

If you missed the BUILD keynote yesterday and want a quick overview of what was released, the 5 minute video below captures the highlights of the keynote

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