I came across a Facebook look-alike the other day and it reminded me of that era of constant clone creation, where every other site that was submitted for review seemed to be a carbon copy of MySpace, Facebook or Twitter. We don’t see such clones very often anymore, namely because there’s little purpose in creating a standalone destination site. It’s cheaper, faster and more efficient to build an application that runs on the platform of a larger, already established social network, such as Facebook.
In fact, Facebook has really set the standards for the integrated social network platform, as it enables developers to leverage users’ social graphs for gaining new users, creating interactive applications, and building brand recognition. You know, the true nature of viral online activity within the realm of absolute social networking.
So will we ever see a return to standalone social networking destination sites? The application route via integrated platforms has already proven itself as a business model. We all held our breath to see how developers, users and investors would respond to Facebook’s platform, and once applications started to receive funding and become acquisition targets, we had our proof of concept. From then on, we’ve seen the steady growth of other platforms created for advertising and monetizing applications within these integrated platforms, some of which are cross-network or network-agnostic. The current outcropping of virtual goods monetization only spurs the revenue-generating potential of integrated social network platforms, with Facebook still at the center of it all.
Facebook is looking pretty solid right now, so it’s hard to see what a future alternative would be. But nothing remains perfect forever. User needs will eventually change. New implementations of various technologies will modify our access to each other and the way in which we communicate to friends, family and the masses. Facebook may be able to keep up, or it may lose ground and have to seek out a comeback strategy.
Right now, Facebook is looking a lot like AOL in the late 1990s, especially from a marketing perspective. AOL too attempted to become the center for all your web-related activity. From chat rooms to personal websites, shopping and news channels to personal messaging systems, AOL had an interlocking set of sites to handle all your needs. Large brands picked up on this central access system for marketing purposes, running commercials encouraging you to simply look up their keyword on an AOL search. And we’re seeing the same thing happen with Facebook, as brands are promoting their vanity URLs on Facebook and launching online campaigns before they run a television commercial.
While I have little idea of what could possibly come after Facebook’s platform approach to social networking, I do recognize the fact that devices are slowly merging to become smaller, more mobile, and more media-savvy. That means that pretty soon our laptops will be indistinguishable from our cell phones, and our ability to access currently disjointed media will be a matter of nostalgia.
That being said, I imagine Apple is in a pretty good position to continue to grow its platform, though it lacks social capabilities. But Apple can leave that to the developers, in a way similar to Facebook leaving the applications up to the developers while it handled the social aspects of connecting the dots. Facebook and Apple have already teamed up on the platform level, so in this sense, both companies are looking to each other to help fulfill their future potential as a platform standard.
What I’m most anxious to see, however, is the way in which applications run on these platforms will help consumers and end users become more knowledgeable and efficient with their own time. I mentioned the market research undertones of the Dunkin’ Run iPhone app in a Bublicious post yesterday, and the personal assistant trend will only grow stronger as brands and large corporations realize the immediate wealth that can be tapped into with that kind of access to consumer data. Scary? Maybe. Helpful in the end? Sure, why not?