Facebook is Microsoft Office of Social Apps

Having spent just enough time with the waaaay over-hyped Facebook to be dangerous, I will now offer the definitive explanation for why people use the thing. Facebook is the Microsoft Office of social apps.

In other words, none of the apps are particularly good — photo sharing, status updates, personal pages, events, groups, etc. — let alone being as good as their standalone counterparts — Flickr, Twittr, Typepad/Wordpress, Google Group, etc. — but most people don’t care. They just want their social software all in one place, all from the same interface, and then they want to move on and get their (social/presence) work done.

To go one level deeper, like Office, Facebook has an operating system substrate to create lock-in. Where in Windows it’s about sharing file format compatibility across apps and sharing some crummy UI features, in Facebook it’s about sharing social/presence data across apps, and … sharing crummy UI features.


  1. True!
    In that case, MySpace can be looked as the “Open-Source” alternative – allowing you to mashup Flickr, MyBlogLog, Twitter etc. without too many limitations.
    But I wonder who can be defined as the Apple of SocialApps – meaning the cool, semi-open, strong brand social website/service…

  2. I only tried Facebook this past week, and I must agree. It is a cleaner interface than MySpace, which is why my account has lasted more than the 2-3 days it lasted on MySpace before I deleted it (the demographic seems to be different too).
    What I can’t figure out is this. Before apps integration, why did people use Facebook (other than college types, where it makes a ton of sense)
    Overhyped yes, but underestimating Facebook would be folly. It’s got stickiness and smart people behind it. Its not difficult to see why it’s been such a hit

  3. dub dub says:

    @lagon: apple is semi-open? Are you semi- drinking the kool aid? In fact, if you force me to apply Paul’s analogy, I’d say myspace = microsoft, facebook = apple.
    But I think I may be too old to care about social network websites. And as for over-hyped, boy, has that ship sailed long ago… :)

  4. This is a really interesting take on Facebook and why it’s so popular. Of course, since it opened up to developers recently it will be interesting to see what “the masses” can come up with to create a much better user experience.
    Jason Alba
    CEO – JibberJobber.com
    JibberJobber – UnSocial Networking for Career Management

  5. Paul, I think you’re wrong on this one. Kent Newsome brought up a similar question, and I pointed out to him why I thought he was focusing too much on services, not people:
    “Social networking services like Facebook, and socially-enabled blogging services like MindSay, let people define a network through connections, not link-exchanges. Kent says he feels “like the blogosphere is the only social network that matters”, but how is the blogosphere a social network? Unless you’re an A-lister, it’s what your content is, not who you are, that matters. We browse the blogosphere because we’re looking for interesting ideas. But we use social networking services because we want to know what our friends think. Is blogging a way of doing that? Absolutely. But as Twitter has been showing us, less can be more too. Sharing on a social network where all your friends already are is still easier than maintaining a blog and keeping people coming to it.”
    I think you’re making a similar mistake, but you seem to be making it by focusing too much on UI rather than the people. Is twitter as service any less good because of how it’s presented? Flickr? Your blog? When it comes to friends and other close connections, it’s *content* and *ease of use* that matter, not how prettily it’s presented.
    “They just want their social software all in one place, all from the same interface, and then they want to move on and get their (social/presence) work done.”
    You say that like it’s this horrible thing that people have limited time. Like we should feel guilty that we don’t have time to go to anywhere from 5 to 50 different sites to keep up with a bunch of people. Services that provide centralization let us keep track of an exponentially higher number of people. I don’t see you bashing RSS or Atom, but who would say that content looks better in Bloglines or Google Reader than it does on the place where someone spent a lot of time carefully crafting their site design?
    Looking forward to your response,
    Jay Neely, Social Strategist

  6. I think they were very smart to focus on school/university only to begin with and smart now to open it up just before they sell it. But I think it’s worth less now that it’s opened up. Networks are about quality of connections. It’s now subject to network spam like LinkedIn and MySpace.

  7. Paul,
    You are spot on about the lock-in aspect. It is one of the reasons why I rely on my blog as the “substrate” for my social networking. In fact, I am tending towards the idea that we can use our blogs and openID as the open source version of Facebook, Myspace, etc. I am worried about putting all my “eggs” into one social networking site.

  8. I disagree. The apps built by FB work very well. The photos are, from a utility perspective, fantastic.

  9. Clearly we’re on the same page

  10. But only if I give you the right link. :-}

  11. Im not quite sure that Facebook apps are substandard. Sure, the feature set is more limited than the examples cited, but Facebooks are incredibly honed around the network aspect.
    For instance, you can get a feed or Recently Tagged Friends, Photos of Me,
    The tagging isnt arbitrary, but based on connections already made with friends. It is quite powerful, and allows nice touches such as ‘Show Photos of You and X’, where X is whoevers profile you are currently viewing.
    And now with the Facebook Platform you have companies who can extend the functionality of Facebooks own apps. Take Piknik for example, which gives photo editing and enhancing controls directly within the Facebook interface.

  12. I think perhaps the distinction to make is begween Facebook’s own apps and the new ‘development platform’ apps. Facebook’s creations are excellent and largely explain why the site became so popular. At a time when Myspace was/is flooded by comment spam (by users themselves), crazy GIF images, network problems and limits on the photos uploaded, Facebook has been the antithesis to Myspace. Its style is understated (they’ve acknowledged to have admired the ‘Apple look’), clean and with relatively few annoying ads. They conciously promote the user experience (ie not allowing any autoplay features in the new third-party apps) and empower users by actions like allowing as many photos to be uploaded as people want. I know some people with multiple thousands of party photos of themselves.
    But what’s most interesting about Facebook is that it’s largely been restricted to those people who you already know. While MySpace is blighted by people asking to ‘friend me’ every ten seconds, the culture on Facebook is much more restricted and therefore trustworthy. A great response example of this is their new Marketplace application that tells you when a friend is selling a product. What’s more revolutionary is that if you were to search through your network for products on the Marketplace, if a seller knows someone you know, even if you don’t know the seller, then this relationship is highlighted. It’s promoting trust.
    Having used other social networks like Myspace, LinkedIn, Friendster, Hi5 and Bebo, I’d say that Facebook’s UI is by no means crummy. It’s much more restrained than the others and actually seems to only display useful information. The users don’t go to Facebook FOR the UI, most people won’t even notice that it’s a good UI because it feels seamless. What’s notable is that they use if and hype it (as you say Paul that it’s over-hyped) because they trust it and trust the other users. It, along with perhaps to a lesser extent Flickr, has been one of the best managed and conceived startups of late.
    Not that it’s a startup anymore. It’s BIG!

  13. Paul, Facebook will be (is?) a platform for distribution of many apps… think Windows, not Office.