Why Facebook?

Been discussing about Facebook lately with many people and there is a lot of action on the internet as well in terms of how powerful it is and how it is transforming the web and the way we use the web.

I was originally using Orkut and before Facebook there were plenty of social networking websites such as MySpace, Hi5, Orkut, etc…I used to wonder why there is such a big deal about Facebook that everybody is talking about. After all it is a casual website where people mostly share photos and post things like “My cat ran away”, “Don’t feel like getting out of bed. Lol”, etc…In fact I read an article where one Silicon Valley Venture Capitalist called Facebook as nothing but a photo sharing website. And yeah, now there is a movie about Facebook and a book released. And one Russian investor bought 1% stake for $330 millions valuing Facebook at $30+ B. And that is about 1/3 of what Ford or GM is valued today (they are more than 100yrs old) in about 10yrs since it was built in a dorm. And yeah, the CEO is 28 years old and it has 500M users. Dot.

I was really very curious as to how such a simple service can be massively hit and why so many people love using it. When you really look at how users interact with Facebook, probably you get a hint why Facebook really matters and there are reasons why people spend like 40B minutes a month in Facebook (as claimed by FB engineering).

When I post a comment on one of my friends’ post, FB tells in my wall post that “I commented on his post” and it appears on others’ wall as “Raghu posted on that person’s post”. Similarly, if you look all around the way the posts, comments, photos, likes, videos appear in the feed you will notice things like “You and Amit like this post”, “Kumar shared a video”, “You and 330,000 people like Starbucks”. Even though it is just a way of letting the information display on a page, I think this is the whole deal about it. It gives a whole human feeling/touch in terms of saying “I like this”, “He said this”, etc…Now that’s how we interact with people and things in real world.

Few years ago, we used to maintain an address book online where we used to have the email ids of people. Now Facebook is our address book. And people in our friends list are real people. We used to have Yahoo IM friends like cooldude007, sweetgirl92. But in Facebook our contacts have a real identity. They are our college friends, co-workers, relatives, etc…And Facebook gives us a platform where we can interact with them easily. Now that was something missed out in Orkut, MySpace and a bunch of other Social Networking websites. They probably never got Social right.

And to realize the true power of Facebook and how it is transforming businesses, Honda India has a Facebook page where its customers regularly post complaints and Honda’s representatives respond mostly within a day. Now that’s a traditional manufacturing company being so active in Facebook. I read somewhere that a massive Colombian people revolution against the Guerillas started as a single Facebook page created by someone who was utterly angry against the Guerillas.

And Facebook can probably give a very tough life to Google too. Google today is probably the single company that has access to all the data that is getting created on the web. They make their money through the advertisements that they place on the web by crunching all these data created in the web. Google’s vision itself is about organizing information on the web. But the question is, what if all the information that is getting created in the web is created inside Facebook and Google has no access to it? For example, if you look at the companies that Google has bought in the past, like Blogger, Youtube, etc…these are products where internet users were creating data and Google wants all the data that is created on the web. What if people are creating Facebook Pages instead of blogging…Video links being posted in Facebook instead of Youtube. Facebook already has massive amount of organized data. Google invests so much amount of time in figuring out who created what kind of data, who is looking at what pages, etc…But Facebook already knows “Raghu likes this Page”, “Aamir likes Sachin Tendulkar”. It already has access to organized information and that is probably a big deal. These days, your competitor need not always be from your own domain. Microsoft would have never thought that Google will be its competitor and Sony wouldn’t have even imagined about Apple (iPod). Probably the same thing might happen for Google as well (Facebook).

And as a software developer, I am really amazed at the scale Facebook is operating and how their systems are built. I am already a fan of the “Facebook Engineering” page in Facebook. I am amazed at even imagining the kind of social graph that Facebook will be storing in their servers and how it will go through those graphs to tell me one small information like “You may also know Sunil” based on the “n” degree of connection in my social graph. And if I am a fan of “Sachin Tendular” page and there is a post on Sachin’s latest six in the Nagpur test, probably I and 330,000 other people would have “liked” the post. If it visit that page again and when Facebook says “You and 330,000 others like this” that is actually massive operation behind the scene at run time. Cannot imagine the data storage and caching that Facebook has built.

I am really amazed at how Facebook is actually transforming our lives and the social, political, economical impact that it can have in the future. And this is something that will be interesting to watch out as more and more people stay always connected.

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