Sunday, May 27, 2007

Rise of Facebook

I've been to a couple of different parties in the past few weeks where everyone is talking about Facebook. It's quite interesting seeing its evolution from an equivalent of FriendsReunited to a genuinely useful tool that people are using to organise their lives.
I was planning to meet up with someone this weekend and was sent a Facebook event rather than an email or a phone call to sort out the details. Allen and Overy recently suffered an internal revolt when their IT department decided to block the Facebook's website. There was a swift backpedal and the lawyers are back to manically facebooking each other.
The thing that confuses me is why this didn't happen with Myspace or Bebo. They both emerged (in the UK) around a year to a year and a half ago. They swiftly took over many people's lives and had them organising their lives around the websites. However, these sites didn't win over my social circle so I always felt a little left out.
Whole books have been written on network effects and how things like social networks can evolve. I can't be bothered to think about why they succeeded. Instead I'll draw a couple of pretty graphs.
This one shows the growth of Facebook against those of its competitors.
Myspace, Bebo, Piczo, and Facebook
As you can seem Facebook is doing a good job of catching up, but it's still a huge distance behind Myspace and Bebo. It'll take them a good six - nine months of current growth. Worrying for Piczo is the fact that they've actually lost audience in the last month. Things are not going to go well for them if they can't fix that soon.
A quick look at the younger people shows Piczo in even more trouble:
Social Networking: 15-24 yr olds
Facebook has already overtaken Piczo and is halfway towards catching Myspace and Bebo.

A good thing to notice on this graph is that Bebo and Myspace are neck and neck for the umber one social networking spot. This should be noticed by all the brands competing with each other to see who can spend the most on Myspace - there's a couple of different places to spend that money...

The 'hidden' rise of Bebo and Piczo shows the importance of having good measuring tools in the internet - you can't see what other people are doing online. A website is usually less exciting than the last episode of 24 and so gets talked about less. The current measurement systems still leave large amounts to be desired.

We'll see what Google or Tacoda will offer us when they get round to sharing the piles of data they are sitting on - I suspect there'll be some interesting nuggets within them.


  1. Good analysis!

    The thing which - to me - is exciting about Facebook, is the fact that the guys who are developing it have actually managed to begin to crystallise the whole thing as a DEVELOPMENT PLATFORM - the only part of which end users will see being the new "applications" section. As a developer myself, I find this very very exciting.

    MySpace's growth can only slow, and, in fact, will probably start to stall quite soon if it hasn't already. The reason for this is because their platform is a bunch of big, smelly pants. It's based on technology that's 4 or 5 years out of date, but at the scale to which it has deployed it will cost millions and involve many man-years of work to re-engineer. They are doing it - and they have the money - but it will take time, and during this time there is a very valid and very real race to overtake.

    Facebook does not YET suffer from platform obsolescence, and judging by how "on it" the developers are - every software development trend I can think of, from Agile to AJAX to Open Source has made its way into their platform - they may never suffer at all.

    Facebook will cement it's popularity through inclusion, much as Flickr and Google have. But without careful management and vision of how widely this inclusion can scopes, they run the risk of giving away all their assets and closing off their revenue routes (by, for example, making advertising unnecessary or invisible under some circumstances).

    But it's the fact that they have an open API which will keep developers coming, and what they get back out of that is the possibility of someone else coming up with a killer "Facebook app" for free.

    And as I'm a developer, maybe I'll be the one to make it, if I can think something up.

  2. Johanna5:09 pm

    Hm, odd, I've never even heard of Bebo or Piczo - are they maybe more popular in the US? In my world, it's all about facebook. Myspace is just too annoying for words, pretty much evry time I log on there's an error of some sort.