Facebook’s big developer conference is next week, and the company is widely expected to announce a new music service.
Will anybody care?
That’s not just an idle question. Facebook hasn’t had a hit new product in a long time.
The news feed, photos, and events are all widely used. They’re all at least two years old.
The company’s last big hit was the OpenGraph API, which extended Facebook to third-party Web sites, letting users “Like” sites without having to go to Facebook.
But OpenGraph was really more of an extended version of Facebook Connect, which was introduced way back in 2008 and was already a big hit.
Since then? Take a look…
Places hasn't stopped Foursquare at all, and Facebook is going back to the drawing board on the whole idea.
Facebook's check-in service, Places, was announced last August, and a lot of people predicted it would kill Foursquare.
It didn't. About a month ago, Facebook completely killed the mobile version, although it's apparently planning some sort of replacement. It folded the Web version into status updates.
Last October Facebook introduced Messages, which allowed users to get their own facebook.com email address. It also combined email with the IM and SMS features already available within Facebook.
Facebook hasn't talked about it very much since, and we've never seen a message from a facebook.com address in any of our other email inboxes. There doesn't seem to be a lot of mail from external systems flowing into Facebook either.
Groups is popular for some users, but didn't solve the problem of not wanting to share everything with everyone.
The company claims it's a success: back in July, Zuckerberg said that more than half of Facebook users now use Groups.
But Facebook just introduced an improved Friend Lists feature that basically does the same thing: it lets you divide your friends into groups like close friends and acquaintances, then automatically shares different information with them.
Why? Our bet is that a lot of users were using Groups only for very specific and limited interactions, like conversations with their soccer team.
Facebook Pages was established in 2009 as a way for fans to follow celebrities and brands, without requiring them to have a two-way 'friend' relationship. A lot of companies and celebrities created them.
But some business owners complained that it had a lot of flaws, like a lack of verification and insufficient stats. In the meantime, Twitter has gotten a lot of celebrities on board, and is becoming a mainstream hit because it lets people follow the stars and businesses they care about.
Now Facebook is taking another shot, letting users add 'Subscribe' buttons to their profiles so people can follow them without requiring a two-way relationship.
Facebook's iPhone app was cool when it was introduced, but it hasn't gotten a full revision update in almost two years -- the company introduced version 3.0 in August 2009, and just released 3.5 last week. A new app just for group messaging makes it look even more tired -- why not just include this feature in the main Facebook iPhone app?
Worse yet, there's still no Facebook iPad app, more than a year after the iPad was introduced.
Facebook is almost certainly going to make some moves here next week -- the iPad app is done and was accidentally leaked in a previous version of the iPhone app, and a new photo sharing app has also leaked. These updates will probably come out at f8 next week, but they're long overdue.
Earlier this summer, Facebook added Skype video calling. It's a great idea, and should find lots of use.
The only problem -- a week before, Google had introduced Google+ with Hangouts, which offered live video chat with up to 10 people at the same time. One-to-one video chat on Skype looked kind of paltry in comparison.
A lot of rank and file employees are leaving when their stock is fully vested, and the problem is worrisome enough that Facebook is considering pushing its IPO out to late 2012 to make sure a lot more employees don't cash out and move on.
Despite the lack of a big new hit, Facebook has continued to thrive -- it has grown users by 50%, from 500 million to 750 million, in just over a year, and its revenues are on track to double this year.
Meanwhile, the amount of information being exchanged through the service has exploded, which has to put strain on the company's infrastructure. Remember, Facebook just opened its first data centre this year after leasing space for years. It takes time and money (or lots of cooperation from partners) to create a massively scalable and reliable back end like Google has.
So maybe this has been a reasoned choice: instead of making big bold bets, Facebook has concentrated on incremental improvements and keeping the service running smoothly.
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