By the time you read this, Facebook’s stock will be trading at more than $50 per share. That would be an all time high. Now, I happen to own some Facebook stock that I bought at the IPO – but that’s not why I’m writing this piece, and it’s not why you should care. You should care because Facebook’s founding vision and product roadmap will continue to shape the world as we now know it.
Not only will Facebook, through its immense social graph, continue to innovate and disrupt the one-third of the world that is already “connected,” but its founder is also intent on connecting the next 5 billion people that are not yet online through internet.org, a project he started to enable the “knowledge economy.”
Mark Zuckerberg famously commented earlier this year that he doesn’t care so much about Facebook being cool anymore so long as it continues to be essential to our lives, like a basic need – a utility, like electricity.
The early signs are that for business, Facebook could be the electricity of the future. There are three pillars to this business innovation:
First, the single sign-on Facebook Connect tool can become the dominant gateway to your media, e-commerce, and mobile experiences.
Startups such as Janrain and Gigya have pioneered identity management as they have built login widgets for thousands of publishers and e-tailers alike. These widgets save users time in the login process while giving businesses a ready-made if still somewhat nascent CRM system. Although only a minority of websites currently takes advantage of this tool, Facebook Connect’s traction is growing rapidly – by some accounts more than doubling every few years – as it continues to disrupt how we interact with media, e-commerce, and apps.
Second, and derivative of the growing dominance of Facebook Connect, will be the introduction of a new personalization paradigm across the web as sites take advantage of the social data voluntarily sharedthrough Connect to dramatically improve user experience and target ads by accessing Facebook’s social graph.
Third, and less obvious, Facebook’s utility will go beyond ID management and personalized commerce to encompass a Brave New World of data analytics. Insights previously purchased from third-party data vendors that scrape information from offline and online sources to paint a portrait of each user will be replaced by equally if not more accurate inferences derived purely from a user’s social graph.
Expect new insights, such as your “credit score 3.0”based on social data, to disrupt old monopolies as users’ digital and social fingerprints eclipse their old world, off-line analogs.
By applying Big Data analytics to social data, we can reliably infer a user’s demographics, income, and even her potential to repay a loan. Vendors like Acxiom, Neustar and FICO will face upstart contenders leveraging the new world of social data for competing insights. More recent powerhouses like PayPal may be disrupted if a new “Facebook wallet” is coupled with Facebook Connect. In fact, PayPal co-founder Max Levchin is himself a pioneer in this new world as his company Affirm taps new data sources to facilitate mobile payments while assessing a consumer’s ability to pay.
But Facebook’s relevance to your future goes far beyond its commercial potential.
The most disruptive event in modern US history was – not coincidentally – directly linked to Facebook. Theonline campaign coordinator for our first African American president was none other than Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine Obama winning the 2008 election without the youthful support and individual donations that the Obama campaign tapped through the social network.
At its core, Facebook reduces the friction and increases the velocity of information sharing. A post to a group of 500 friends can show up in seconds in front of 100,000 friends if only half of them share it. And quickly tens of millions after that.
While most of us yield this immense power to share newsworthy life events (like the photo of our pooch wake boarding), every once in a while a fewimpertinent denizens of the “under-developed” worldboldly use the medium to organize mass protests (like the ones that took place in Tahrir Square) to topple dictators.
And that’s what’s different about the next 5 billion people who will become “connected.”
The newly initiated are more eager than we, the already connected, are to use Facebook as a vehicle for game-changing political discourse, organization and even revolution. Oppressive regimes are on high alert to the existential threat posed by social networks such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Their oppressed citizens are equally vested in the success of internet.org as a Trojan horse for freedom.
The metaphor of Facebook becoming as essential to daily life as electricity may not have been far from the mark. And like electricity, Facebook has sparked far more than just a new way to power commerce.
It may actually light the path to a freer world. I hope so.