People have a tendency to see the future as a linear function of today’s trends. In the case of the Facebook era, most people see Facebook becoming the principal source of information consumption. To many people, Facebook is the main reason they go online. The rest of the Internet does not exist to many.
Let us rewind a bit; back in the days, in the 1990s there was the browser. It was really confusing to most and so it was mostly adopted by tech savvy people, and then came along America Online (AOL). AOL simplified things to a point where the Internet made sense to the average Joe. For almost all, AOL was the Internet. In fact, domain names were almost irrelevant. In substitution, people new AOL Keywords. Businesses would advertise their AOL keywords so that customers could reach their internet content. AOL became so big, so quick, that coming from nothing, they went on to have such a high market capitalization to the point where they managed to lead the astronomic AOL Time Warner Merger, estimated to have an aggregate value of $350 billion at that time. It would not surprise me that Facebook achieved three digit billion dollar valuations also. Now we all know the fate of AOL.
Facebook is the new AOL. In the evolution of the web, we have gone through cycles of open products and closed products. Mozilla browser – open, AOL – closed, Internet Explorer – open, Facebook – closed. A quick glimpse to the past 20 years of history will show you a cyclical pattern, and there is no sign of this changing. So what’s happening?
We are going through an evolutionary process where when a new technology is introduced, consumers must first go through a comfort period – a closed period. Thus, when Mozilla came out, it was open, but it was too complicated for regular folks and as a result came AOL. Once people felt comfortable browsing, internet browsers took over the experience, open. As we now add a social layer to the Internet fiber, we must take the masses once more through a closed system, while the incorporation of the social layer gets deeply rooted. Through this 20 year period, smaller cycles of other internet technologies have gone through the same process, but we need not get into those details.
So, what’s gonna happen next…
Facebook has done the job of transitioning the social layer element of the Internet and as history shows, we will eventually come out into the open web again. Instead of logging into Facebook, the social layer will permeate throughout the whole web – think “like” buttons. Instead of a singular social place, the entire web will be social and the social intelligence will be distributed – think Diaspora. The social component will feel natural to the average user because of their experience with the closed Facebook system, and the user will easily navigate and interact with this new integrated component.
The lesson being here, that in order for the masses to adopt a new technology, it is most likely that the most effective way of achieving adoption is by having a single standard, where the user interacts in the comfort of uniformity. Uniformity stifles freedom and creativity, thus uniformity will be replaced once the user obtains mastery of the new technology and the comfort isn’t needed anymore.
So can you guess what’s going to happen with the iPhone’s closed iOS? Yes, Android will eventually replace it.