BACK TO THE FUTURE
There's a palpable frenzy around Facebook in recent weeks as this CNET story highlights.
It's happening obviously, as developers, entrepreneurs, VCs and users get their minds around what the company's recently announced F8 platform strategy means longer term.
No less a personage than Marc Andreessen has declared Facebook a seminal milestone in the on-going history of the internet.
But as I explore the various parts of the exploding Facebook eco-system in recent days, I've been feeling a little sense of deja vu.
What's interesting about the Facebook fever, is how it's simultaneously hitting net veterans, media veterans, and net natives. Net Natives of course, are members of the younger generation who've not experienced much traditional or online media before AOL.
The net veterans see in Facebook, the opportunity to witness another major platform in the making, along the lines of a Microsoft or a Google.
The media veterans see in Facebook, the possibility of the next media money machine emerging, along the lines of a next-gen MTV, or a Bloomberg. Anecdotally, Jeff Jarvis observes in a recent post, that Mark Zuckerberg, the 23-year old founder and CEO of Facebook had the seat of honor next to Rupert Murdoch at dinner during the latest News Corp. off-site gathering for it's executives:
"Murdoch sat next to Zuckerberg and he was clearly enchanted; they stayed head-to-head all through the meal.
Mark left to get back up north and in a flash, MySpace founder and now Murdochian Chris DeWolfe came dashing over, as if he were jealous of the attention Dad had given that other kid."
And the net natives? Well, they seem to be breathless about Facebook the world over. Note this post from Ramesh Jain, commenting on a recent brief business trip to Mumbai, India:
"In this trip, however, I got a chance to hear some young people (three 19 year old girls) talk about what they like and dislike on Internet. Their excitement about Facebook was something to be experienced.
It appears that Facebook has become the most important medium for social communication among them. They love everything about Facebook and they are ecstatic about the new application environment.
They think now they have everything that they need to remain in touch with all their friends. They repeatedly mentioned that they are on Facebook all the time."
"It is incredibly hard to think of new paradigms when you've grown up reading the newspaper every morning. When you turn to TV for your entertainment. When you read magazines on the train home from work.
But we have a generation coming of age right now that has never relied on newspapers, TV, and magazines for their information and entertainment.
They are the net natives. They grew up in AOL chatrooms, IMing with their friends for hours after dinner, and went to school with a Facebook login."
But that exactly is the moment of deja vu for me.
Facebook today feels like a web-based AOL.
You log in to do anything.
You keep logging in because you get logged out if there are big periods of inactivity.
You log in to keep in touch with your friends, just like today's net natives did in AOL's chat rooms and IM sessions.
You exchange emails back and forth with them using Facebook's walled, proprietary, email system.
You select your "buddies" that you want to keep tabs on, and stay in touch with throughout the day.
There are a lot of differences of course is a vis AOL, key among them being that one's identity is crystal clear in Facebook, while on AOL, one could be interacting with anybody and their dog.
The other difference of course is that the various applications and content services within AOL are being created in Facebook in a de-centralized manner, with third parties taking the lead. There likely will be applications that emerge in Facebook that were never possible in the worlds of AOL.
And unlike AOL, various applications will battle it out in a Darwinian fashion within the Facebook platform to emerge as the leader. After all, how many music social networking sites can thrive longer-term in the Facebook eco-system?
But while the net natives may not be yearning to re-create a newspaper, TV or magazine in this new "Web 2.0" realm, they may be sub-consciously trying to re-create an AOL of sorts.
How does it go? The more things change...