One thing Facebook execs have down pat is slamming the door on reporters’ questions. If they don’t want to answer something, they’ll tell you point blank: There’s nothing they want to talk about today.
The “they,” of course, is more “him,” as in Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who sidestepped some questions and looked confused by others during a question and answer session with reporters at the company’s F8 Conference July 23.
For example, when a reporter asked if Facebook would join OpenSocial, Zuckerberg said, “We don’t have anything to announce there today,” adding that Facebook is a fan of other companies that the media would consider its competitors. “I think what they’re doing is cool in a lot of ways.”
He said “fan,” not “friend,” a key difference. The fan designation means Facebook is coolly appreciative of Google’s work. If Zuckerberg had said friend it would have implied he was willing to work with Google.
Another reporter asked if Facebook Connect, a service that lets users take their profile information and contacts outside the hallowed walled garden, would work with Microsoft’s Live Mesh technology. Zuckerberg said, “There are things that we’ve talked about with them, but there’s nothing specific that we’re announcing today around that.”
Don’t read into this. Zuckerberg could simply mean that he had dinner with the Live Mesh team. Facebook Connect and Live Mesh are both so young that I wouldn’t assume the two, which are based on two totally different technical approaches, will meet in the middle.
However, Zuckerberg warmed to the subject of the evolution of the social network through Connect and, presumably, similar services such as Google Friend Connect and MySpace Data Availability. The goal of all these initiatives is to make the Web more open and social. Pardon that pun. Check out Zuckerberg’s spiel:
“Social applications are going to start [to] decentralize a bit more. Instead of just having a few big social networks like we’ve had over the last five or six years that are basically just these large communities that have a few applications that they’ve built themselves inside, what we’re going to see is that they are going to split up into more, different types of social applications.
“First, that happened with us and other platforms enabling other people to build different applications to complement our own and their own inside of their own sites. The next step is to have that decentralize outside of their sites across the whole Web.”
For example, a company building an app inside Facebook today may choose to build it outside Facebook on its own Web site tomorrow using Facebook Connect.
In fact, Facebook seems to think this will become the rule rather than the exception. Zuckerberg claims to be equally happy with that because it lets people share information.
But how will Facebook make money from those apps? If those apps are living outside Facebook, the social network can’t capitalize on ad revenues generated from those apps. Doesn’t Connect lead users away from Facebook instead of to it?
This is a good segue for the future question: Zuckerberg was asked what Facebook is evolving into. He basically pointed to the Facebook feeds, search and the evolution of its communications tools, such as Facebook Chat. He repeated his vision of apps built outside of Facebook through Connect. Again, where is the money?
Zuckerberg repeated his mantra that monetization of his hallowed Platform is secondary. How long until it becomes a primary concern?
Also, it seems odd to create a seemingly open service like Connect based on Facebook’s proprietary technologies. Google and MySpace use OpenID, OAuth and OpenSocial to support their Friend Connect and Data Availability services, respectively.
I asked Google’s OpenSocial guru David Glazer at F8 if Facebook’s adherence to its own technology for Connect would bite Facebook in the long run. He didn’t think so, and I agree with him. Users leveraging apps from these platforms won’t care what technology propels them.
And with more than 400,000 developers gleefully programming on the Facebook platform, it seems there will be no shortage of apps being created for Connect.
What surprisingly few folks talked about at F8 was what sort of enterprise impact Connect and the future Facebook offerings would have. No one seems to know or care at this point. People seem to be happy playing fun games and reaching out to others.