Where in the world is Carmen Sandiego? On Facebook!

And all over the internet. Because Facebook is going to be everywhere. Basically Facebook is going to be the internet.

From now on, for example, visitors to an increasing number of high-profile websites will find a “Like” button on the page. Click on it and the news that you approve of the site’s content will automatically be integrated into your Facebook profile, for the delectation of your friends. (Interestingly, there’s no “dislike” button, which tells you all you need to know about the motivation behind this technology).

This move caused jaws to drop all over the blogosphere. I think Facebook has just seized control of the internet.

To say that this has not been in the works would be an omission of a grievous nature. It has been coming for a while, even if the pundits have been screaming something else from the rooftops: that Facebook – because of their closed nature – is threat to Google. There has never been greater misunderstanding of how both Facebook and Google work than to claim something like that.

That said, it is important to understand why Facebook is doing this. Much like any profit-oriented company (like Google, Microsoft and many others), Facebook wants to exist in a world where demand for its product will keep increasing by any suitable measure of growth spread over time. A purely social networking product cannot accomplish this. You have seen this with Friendster, Myspace and Orkut. Being closed, walled off and limited reduces your value in the world, because you then present the users with only limited use cases. To accomplish growth (in roughly the same terms as Google), you need to be a generalist company and not a company that focuses on the specific niche of personal connections.

Remaining a walled garden diminishes the potential of the product called Facebook. What diminishes it even more is for Facebook to remain a product that is only a facilitator of connections or virtual farming. Sure, it is a nice thing to be able to reconnect with long-lost classmates, relatives and what not, but those are not things you will do on a daily basis once the fad dies down. To be where Facebook wants to be at, they want to be relevant to you on a near-constant basis. The range possibilities in adding that kind of value within the previous Facebook ecosystem is rather limited. Yes, there is a lot of pouring over photographs of newly overweight former friends and flames, but that has intent backing it which is of little value. In other words, it is brilliant as a time sink, but it sucks as something that is backed by little actionable/convertible/monetizable intent.

Contrary to what the pundits have been proclaiming for a long time now (that they will make Google and others bow in front of them because of their walled gardens), Facebook needs its walls to drop to increase usage and relevance. I have been saying it for a while that a closed Facebook has limited potential, what you are seeing now is the opening up of those walls to address a far larger possibility/potential. Facebook, having tired of knowing ‘you’ within the walled gardens now wants to know ‘you’ outside of it.

Facebook with its hundreds of millions of users is taking a leaf out of Google’s own playbook. They are bringing massive scale into the playing field and asking content publishers to adhere to this new specification for the benefit of getting a lot of traffic from the Facebook ecosystem. The publishers, who also have their respective business cases to follow, will fall over each other to adhere to it and herald into that phase of the internet where few choose for money as content goes on to become an archaic commodity.

There are financial motives behind the company’s moves. One of the ways Facebook makes money with its free service is by customizing the selection of advertisements shown to individual users. The more information publicly available about users, the more the company can make from such focused ads. In addition, analysts say Facebook may be eyeing the lucrative market for online search, figuring that its users will be more likely to turn to their friends for advice and information than the wider Web. That opens up more opportunities for advertisers.

With the world becoming more and more interconnected, the powers held by the people who man the gateways to information will only increase and I am not too optimistic about where all this will eventually wind up.


“Facebook has been made the center of attention around a really important issue of how technology is changing the conception of privacy, control and sharing. People are uneasy about it, but as they start to see the benefits and advantages of it, they start to see the value of the experiences.”

-Elliot Schrage, Vice President for public policy, Facebook

PPS: I have spent gazillions number of hours playing, ‘Where in the world is Carmen Sandeigo?” not many aeons ago on my monochrome CRT monitor.


One thought on “Where in the world is Carmen Sandiego? On Facebook!

  1. It is sad that Facebook’s profit maximization path conflicts with users’ interest in their privacy. I am not too sure if in the long run it is a good strategy for FB. Imagine the number of ways in which they can be sued.

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