I have been resisting the desire to toss my hat into the recent facebook debates happening among the tech reporters and commentators (like myself) for a week or two now. Between the Apple iPhone and Facebook postings I have really had my fill of the two but after some careful consideration I wanted to discuss the current status of Facebook and where it might be heading.
As any user of the Facebook site is now familiar, they have opened up their interface to allow the addition of applications to peopleâ€™s profiles. This step was ingenious and quite possibly the biggest move of its type for any closed system site. However, it has allowed quite a bit of clutter to the peoples profiles. From monkeys that you can pet, to super walls, and reading lists, the applications range from the interesting to the absurd. But what do they really do? Well the answer is simply not that much. They do allow a certain level of customization of peopleâ€™s profiles but in most cases, they do not allow any particular insight into the user.
Instead, the applications have become one of the most contentious aspects of the site. In order to use an application you have to add it to your own profile, an unnecessary step. This simple oversight by the Facebook developers now requires that you add an application to interact with it on someone elseâ€™s profile. For example, the â€œgraffiti wallâ€ application allows you to make graffiti on another personâ€™s profile, but for me to use it I must add it. When I add the application, it has certain access to read information in my profile such as who I am. This should not be a necessary step and should be rethought by the developers of Facebook. In addition, most applications automatically request you send an invite to your friends list. This should also be rethought and the option to invite presented but in a different manner such that the default action is to invite no one. Let the applications distribute virally based on success not the current default action to invite everyone on your friends list.
Another aspect of the site that needs major rethinking is the advertising model that Facebook currently employs. As it stands right now the advertising model is random, and not content sensitive. I have seen the 300 DVD release advertising on profiles where the movie is not listed. The advertising model could benefit from an update where the adâ€™s presented are more reflective of the content on the page. If I am viewing a profile of a friend who is an avid reader â€“ such as Sara Inkpen â€“ then I should see primarily ads relating to books or book stores. Not workopolis or the movie 300. The advertising model should relate to the primary interests and content of the page being viewed. A second possibility is ability for Facebook users to purchase advertising space cheap and have their ads appear in their networks and groups.
If Facebook can address these two issues while retaining the functionality of them they will have a powerful model to expand. Such an expansion has been bantered about recently as a possible Internet wide protocol for social networking. Facebook is a closed system, but imagine the possibilities of expanding that system network wide. Allowing individual websites to implement code â€“ much like how HTML allows them to organize and display content now â€“ that establishes more meaningful connections and organization throughout the network. The Internet could evolve from an inter-connected network of networks to an inter-connected social network of social networks. Such an advancement could even rival Google and how it dominates the way in which we find information online.