@Sarah Burris Lowe, who asked this morning “Is Facebook trying to push us into something?”
Great question. Though I’d suggest they’ve already been successfully doing that for a few years now. No one in the world has more sheer dominance over how we act and interact with each other online than Facebook has at the moment. For better or worse, they are the global controller of social networking, making nearly all others that have come before or since insignificant also-rans. The one-time leading MySpace for instance, which at one point in the not too distant past actually had a “value” so ridiculously high that media mogul Rupert Murdoch purchased it for a figure purportedly in the billions, looks, feels and acts like a shabby mess now, more akin to a swap shop or a flea market than a website.
Actually in early 2007 when I was researching the book I was writing at the time, We Are the Revolution: Welcome to the Personal Expression Age, I told everyone around me that I had a hunch that “essentially Facebook, if it keeps up this pace, will become our new desktop, or user interface if you will. It won’t just be a website. It’ll be the literal backdrop of our entire computing experience.” It was at best a hunch, a possibility. But fortunately for them, Mark and company have gone exactly in that direction. I’m actually quite surprised that they had the insight to see the opportunity there; to not just be a favorite online destination, but instead to be the control center of our entire computing experience as mentioned above. With the merging of more streamlined music and video services, and the Facebook “Like” button’s rampant spreading all over the Web, in addition to the trend by other online destination sites to replace their own log-in systems with Facebook’s log-in, they are achieving this mass takeover of the internet faster than most of us even imagined they could.
The only two things that now stand in their way of complete dominance, and spreading this dominance through to personal computing in it’s entirety are Google and Apple. Google is already a goner in terms of it’s noble though unsuccessful attempt to compete with Facebook in any real sense with it’s fledgling Google+ network. Look for an announcement within months from both companies that Facebook and Google “are working together and have created a way to merge their respective systems to create a more streamlined and seamless online experience for the user.” Google isn’t stupid. They’re young, edgy and brilliant. They’ll come to the Facebook trough to drink when they get thirsty enough; as in when they realize Facebook’s got them beat in spades when it comes to social networking.
Apple on the other hand literally owns the mobile computing world. HP was smart to jump off the “tablet” ship as quickly as it did. Other companies would be wise to follow suit. And fast. With their compulsive obsession with aesthetics, and the fact that they already own and operate the largest “app store” on planet earth — with the majority of the world’s population already connected to them with a personal credit card on file, each purchase bridging the user more and more dependent on the megalith, any attempt to compete with Apple’s iPad or iPhone seems downright childish. But one notices that when companies have literally billions of dollars in capital stored up, some are willing to give it a go anyway. Android? Even the term itself is an outdated one from days gone by.
No, most of us will not be going anywhere in the near future without that beloved iPad close at hand. So how does this relate to Facebook? Once the major merges take place – and some point out that they already have – such as YouTube and Facebook, music and Facebook, log-ins and Facebook etc, and then the inevitable merging of Google and Facebook, the last few terrains left to seize will be Browsing (which will be covered in a few minutes) and mobile computing. Apple’s dominance reigns supreme over this market for the reasons offered above and perhaps more than any other reason for its multi-touch user interface and its iWork productivity apps. Using an iPad is more than just day to day computing. It’s a living breathing real time work of art experience that anyone, even the most un-artistic among us, can realize just by turning it on. (And by the way, the machine never actually “turns off” – it just goes to sleep for a while until you gently tap its sexy backlit belly button again).
Apple can continue to ride this wave of mobile computing far into the sunset of our futures and it knows it. As far back as January 2010, when the iPad was first unveiled, tech experts have predicted that the iPad will do to the desktop and laptop what Facebook did to MySpace. Facebook will need to convince Apple of its importance in the online world and force some sort of merger. Of course Facebook doesn’t have to do this. They could just leave well enough alone and let Apple own the world of mobile and eventually home and then office computing, and be content with their owning the internet. But that would be anathema to the tendencies we’ve observed in the Zuckerberg game-plan since he first rolled Facebook out of his dorm room. No, merely controlling cyberspace will never be enough. And indeed it shouldn’t be.
The trend, and the biggest coup of them all, is going to be the eventual race to control “the desktop” or “the interface” of whatever device we happen to be using, whether it be Windows (remember them?) or Mac; laptop or PC; iPhone or iPad. When you turn your device on, whatever that device happens to be, for the purpose of brevity, let us call that series of operations and the actions you take to control that device its “interface.” What you see and touch on your “home screen” is nothing more than a different series of words to describe what was once known as “the desktop.” And THAT is the grand-daddy of them all. The multi-million dollar winning lottery ticket. Though perhaps few have foreseen it, that simple black screen that holds your icons and programs in place just begging to be tapped touched squeezed expanded or fondled by you is the big kahuna of real estate in the computing world. See, Facebook only exists if you go online. But what if you aren’t online? Then Facebook doesn’t really matter at all, does it?
Of course, the advent of mobile computing has made it easier and easier for us to go on and off line so effortlessly that “to be or not to be” online is quickly becoming a moot point. But nonetheless, that initial first glance screen, the one we feel so good about seeing at the end of a long work day after we’ve closed all our programs and are ready to say “good night Johnboy” is one of the most ubiquitous areas of our computing and mobile computing environments. If Facebook or another company could find a way to lasso that sexy little filly down and prove indispensable to its very existence, then that surely would be game set match. The desktop may not seem like much. But just close your eyes and imagine for a moment being able to do everything from download a song to watching a video to updating your Facebook status right from that very desktop without having to click on any icons or open anything… My oh my would that be one orgasmic experience for the tech-crazy multi-taskers of the world. So in answer to the original query above, that is the “something” that Facebook may not yet know it’s pushing us towards, but in time one guesses they soon will be more than aware of it.
Of course, you might be thinking, “Hey wait! You haven’t covered browsers yet! Or Twitter! What about them?” Well, regarding browsers, the cold hard truth is that, despite the apparently fierce competition for dominance in that world, browsers just don’t matter that much anymore. Besides the fact that they have a difficult time earning revenue, there’s something more fundamental about it. As more and more of us migrate to mobile computing environments and “apps,” there will be a smaller and smaller need for internet browsers. Why use a browser to surf the net when you can do so right from your home screen or desktop? After all, you’re already online aren’t you? And most of what you seek is already an icon on aforesaid home screen or desktop anyway, again proving how radically valuable that little black box truly is.