This year’s F8 introduced a set of features that represent a critical shift in Facebook’s product offering. In our opinion, this is one of the biggest shifts in the history of Facebook, and in modern internet. Let’s review what actually happened.
Facebook now has over 800 million registered users. Those users have been generating interesting content for years. Status updates, photos, events, check-ins, interests, relationships, friends; you name it, they got it. Facebook has spent a long time building the universe of that data, what they think of as a set of “nouns”.
Now it’s time for Facebook to find something useful to do with those “nouns”. They have chosen to focus on “verbs”. We’ve already seen an extremely successful product offering in a form of a verb; the “Like”. Now, Facebook will allow you to do more than “Like” nouns. Before, you could “Like” a movie. Now you can “Watch” a movie. You can “Cook” a meal. “Run” in Central Park. “Read” a book. “Listen” to a song. Opening the floodgates on verbs will increase the amount of possible interactions with nouns by a tremendous amount, perhaps an order of magnitude. That’s more data.
Adding that data is tremendous in itself, but Facebook isn’t stopping there. Focusing on the visualization of that data is key, and that’s what Timeline is about. Timeline attempts to provide a lightweight, aesthetically pleasing way to view your profile. All of your interests, likes, friends, photos, relationships, status updates, your “nouns” and “verbs”, in a way that looks good. It’s simple in concept, and its execution at first glance is quite elegant.
Facebook is not managing the universe of verbs and nouns on its own. That’s where app developers come in. Facebook is already managing some things for you, like “friends”, “photos”, “interests”. Facebook is not currently, however, managing certain important verbs. One verb they are not managing, but others are managing extremely well, is “play”. The way in which Facebook enables a user to “play” has transformed the gaming industry. That is partly because “play” is inherently social. Many other verbs which were slightly less social are now coming into the fold, like “watch”, “listen”, and “read”. We will see similar transformations of the ‘watch”, “listen”, and “read” industries. The message is simple. Social is no longer a class of product. Social is now a part of your product offering. You don’t make “social” apps any more. Now you make apps, and they better be social.
But what if you don’t know what your social verb is? That will be a central challenge for us, and many other companies, when considering the new Facebook. How should we leverage this new universe of nouns and verbs? Do we need to focus on a key verb as a product offering, perhaps “meet”? Is our industry too sensitive to become an instantly social verb?
The next generation of social companies will succeed or fail with their answers to these challenges. Long term, we will need to creatively approach making our products truly social. Facebook has given us the tools to access friend graphs and their associated data in an unprecedented manner. The companies that leverage that data to provide the best user experiences will succeed.
I’m friggin’ excited. New Facebook is sweet. Let’s use it to make our apps even better.