When Facebook launched its platform in 2007, executives said it would become an “ecosystem” full of Web-based software applications that would make their creators money by solving user needs.
Their advantage over the rest of the Internet would be connective tissue that Mark Zuckerberg called “the social graph” — his metaphor for the dataset that describes Facebook users and maps the connections between them.
It never really happened, and last week, Facebook reportedly dropped plans to build a Paypal-like payments system for its platform to the bottom of its to do list — to us, a sure a sign as any that executives at the company no longer believe the widget-only, on-Facebook-only version of the platform will grow into any kind of economy or ecosystem.
But Facebook isn’t giving up on connecting Web-based software created by third-parties to information about its users.
Only now, instead of asking developers to come to Facebook and build apps for its platform, Facebook is taking its “social graph” to the rest of the Internet through a service called Facebook Connect, which allows Facebook members to sign into participating third-party Web sites using their Facebook accounts.
The prediction here is that the new plan works and that Facebook Connect becomes what the Facebook app platform was supposed to be: a way for Facebook to benefit itself and other companies by bringing what it knows about its users to businesses around the Internet.
Besides the fact that it’s obvious Web publishers would crave a way to make it easy for Facebook’s 140 million users to engage more with their sites and their advertisers, here are three reasons why we’re optimistic:
- There aren’t a lot of Web users on Facebook Connect — about 100,000 joined in its first three weeks — but that number will grow as already committed big publishers like Twitter, Digg and Hulu finish their implementation. Twitter’s Facebook application alone has over 92,000 monthly active users.
- Sites that already implemented Facebook are seeing a boost in user-engagment. After Gawker Media integrated Facebook Connect, user registrations were up 45% week over the week a comments were up 16%.
- In anecdotal evidence, but telling: Iminlikewithyou founder Charles Forman never planned to port any of his Web-based multiplayer games into the Facebook platform — he saw it as a lot of work for little gain — but tells us that after seeing Gawker’s numbers, implenting Facebook Connect is “on the list.”
What we’re not predicting for Facebook Connect in 2009 are big revenues for Facebook as a result of its massive adoption.
140 million members is massive adoption and Facebook’s current executive team hasn’t proved capable of turning up revenues to match the company’s sky-high valuations yet.
But they should come eventually. For a simple product, Facebook could sell publishers data about their users. It’s also possible Facebook might eventually offer ways for publishers to serve different ads for different Facebook-connected users.