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Understanding Facebook Basics

OK, after a couple of posts which discuss the impact of Facebook on the web, let’s get down to “brass tacks” here and see what Facebook is all about at the ground level. After all, like about 150,000 people do every day, I recently created a Facebook profile. On the surface, it appears like most social network sites. I have friends, comments, and we can send messages back and forth. OK, cool, but not too impressive. So, what else? How did Facebook get to be thought of as a disruptive technology ?

Facebook Opened Up

Myspace was long considered to be the leading social networking site. But, Myspace is anything but open. As many of you probably know, getting any external content into your Myspace profile is essentially an exercise in hacking the Myspace profile page. You embed a bunch of CSS and crap into the “About Me” section and overwrite the default design of the Myspace page. That seems like a hack to me.

Facebook opened up to third party developers with the release of it’s Facebook Platform. Now anybody can create Facebook applications which are embeddable into a Facebook profile. The end effect is that one’s profile is highly customizable. There is a fast growing library of Facebook applications to choose from, including things like:

  • My Questions. An app that allows you to ask questions of your friends and essentially poll them.
  • Causes. Allows you to start or join in on causes and raise money for things you care about. Very powerful for non-profits.
  • Sticky. Leave sticky notes on your friends’ profiles.

At this time, it looks like there are over 3,200 applications in the library. I added one, for example, which allows me to display my Flickr photos on my Facebook profile. But, what we have here is more than just cool, useless crap you can add to your profile. We have here a mechanism of centralizing your online identity and combining all of it into one big social network. As more and more companies release Facebook applications (and more and more will continue to do so), the possibilities open up even more. In fact, just as I was writing here, I got an email from Chitika saying they now have a Facebook app in order to see who in your network bought what and get feedback. That is using the power of your social network for shopping and reviews.

The Basic Facebook Profile

At it’s core, the Facebook profile has what you would expect of a social network profile. A welcome change from Myspace is that the profiles are clean (no more animated GIFs and loud background music). When you create a profile, you enter data about yourself as you see fit. You can then find your friends by city, school, college, or just by general search. You add them as your “friend” by simply clicking the button to do so. They will need to approve the request before you will end up as their friend on the network.

The wall is a place in the profile where you and others can post quick messages (similar to the comments on Myspace profiles).

Outside of these normal social networking functions, the rest of the system relies on the applications. You browse the apps list and you can add anything you want to your profile. The beauty of it is that it is so open. They have taken this social network site and opened it up in such a way that it can expand in infinite directions, all based on what the community does with it.

And people who follow this stuff (like me) are digging it big time. Michael Arrington, of TechCrunch, said of Facebook:

The payoff is two way. Not only do developers get deep access to Facebook’s twenty million users, Facebook also becomes a rich platform for third party applications.

Facebook’s strategy is almost the polar opposite from MySpace. While MySpace frets over third party widgets, alternatively shutting them down or acquiring them, Facebook is now opening up its core functions to all outside developers.

and Robert Scoble also got bitten by the bug.

So, go create a Facebook profile and experiment with the applications. That is where you will begin to see how the thing comes together.

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