A couple of days ago, I was home chatting to my son. The topic of conversation moved to recent events in North Korea; we touched briefly on a cartoon depicting satirical “last words” associated with the passing of Kim Jong-Il (“I told you I was Il” …. apologies to Spike Milligan). I remarked that I’d seen some bizarre photographs of life in North Korea recently, and he mentioned that vice.com had done a really interesting video some time ago, and asked whether I’d like to see it.
I said yes.
And he said:
I’ll put it on your Wall, Dad
Like others in his generation, he uses email, but sparingly and reluctantly. For him, posting something on someone else’s Wall is the natural thing to do; it is the way he shares information and social objects with his friends.
His younger sister doesn’t do e-mail at all. Some months ago, I heard her tell a friend:
He’s lost his phone, so you’ll have to inbox him on Facebook
She doesn’t even use the word “email”, that’s how far removed she is from the mail culture. [Ironically, she uses a BlackBerry nevertheless, as do many of her friends. They're big on BBM.]
Her elder sister, my firstborn, was my third friend on Facebook. [Dave Morin was my first; his wife Brit Morin, then Bohnet, was my second.] She too engages with her friends mainly via Facebook Walls.
As of tonight, I understand the Wall’s coming down, to be replaced by the Timeline.
I think this is a big deal. And to explain why I think that way, I’d like to take you on a trip back through my own Timeline. Down Memory Lane, as they say.
The story begins with Wal-Mart and then continues with Amazon.com before coming to today and Facebook. [It also explains why I'm fascinated by Marc Benioff's vision for the Social Enterprise, something I will touch upon later. It's one of the reasons why I'm so enjoying my time at Salesforce.com].
Each of these companies is what I term a “Noah business”. Like Noah in the Bible, they saw something that others did not see, a great storm coming. And, like Noah’s ark, they built infrastructures to execute on their vision.
Wal-Mart decided that they could put stores in places where others wouldn’t, because they saw the store as part of a network. A town didn’t have to have 100,000 people before they opened a superstore there. They built distributed infrastructure to connect stores up, located distribution hubs to serve networks of stores more efficiently, built up a nervous system with the store at the edge. Competitors had to follow suit or die. K-Mart anyone? If you’re interested in the story, this HBR article by Pankaj Ghemawat in September 1986 is a good place to start.
Over a decade later, Amazon did something similar. They decided they could ship books to places where others wouldn’t, they saw the customer as part of a network. They built the infrastructure to deliver as little as one book to a customer’s home address, and the connected customers, using their own computers, reviewed and recommended Amazon products and services to each other. Amazon invested in making sure they could serve networks of customers more efficiently, and built up a nervous system with the customer at the edge. And again, competitors had to follow suit or die. Borders anyone? If you’re interested in the story, this HBR article by the late CK Prahalad and MS Krishnan is a good place to start.
And now we have Facebook. Mark Zuckerberg’s genius is often quoted as being around the “friend graph”: Facebook saw the relationship as part of a network. They built infrastructure to deliver relationship glue to everyone, and focused heavily on helping people share social objects. They invested in making sure that they could serve networks of relationships more efficiently, and built up a nervous system with the social object at the edge. And yes, again, competitors will have to follow suit. Or die. If you’re interested in the story, reading David Kirkpatrick’s The Facebook Effect is probably the best place to start.
[Of course, to do that, you should go to Wal-Mart and buy an Amazon Kindle, then download the e-book, to complete the circle of my story elegantly].
Relationships thrive around social objects: by sharing experiences around what you have in common, you build the wherewithal to withstand the differences that will come. Jyri Engestrom and Hugh MacLeod are well worth reading in this context, it was through them that I really understood the importance of social objects.
Today, when I look at Timeline, what I see is an efficient engine for sharing, commenting on, “liking”, or otherwise engaging with, social objects. The original Wall was an early attempt to do this, but it was limited in its ability to help us understand the relationship networks in the context of the social objects. Timeline allows us to view the community of interest around an object more vividly, more easily. Time and location data are also easier to comprehend.
One way of looking at the Wal-Mart-Amazon-Facebook sequence is to compare it with the mainframe moving to midrange, PC and mobile. When I first heard Marc Benioff speak about the Social Enterprise, he made this point about how excited he was to be in an industry that’s evolved that way (from mainframe to midrange to PC to mobile); for some time now, he’s been reminding people that when he founded the company (along with Parker Harris) the question they were asking themselves was “why isn’t all enterprise software like amazon?”…. and, not surprisingly, some years later, the question they asked was “why isn’t all enterprise software like facebook?”
To my way of thinking, the Social Enterprise is the natural evolution of all this. Some companies need help in the Wal-Mart phase, connecting up their stores and employees. Some companies need help in the Amazon phase, connecting up their customers. Some companies need help in the Facebook phase, connecting up their relationships and their ability to share.
And some companies need help in connecting their Wal-Marts and their Amazons and their Facebooks into one open ecosystem.
The Facebook Timeline, by making it easier for us to visualise activity around the social objects we share, will help us understand more about us, our interactions, our relationships. Location and time will become more easily discernible. The text and still photo and link that dominated the Wall will evolve into a richer environment with audio and video, persisted when required (even if it was streamed earlier). It will help us understand our sharing habits more precisely: active and passive sharing will evolve further, as will the use of Like and Share. Communities will form around the conversations that the comment streams represent.
And Facebook will continue to evolve. And adapt. And learn. And share that learning with us.
Do I think Facebook has done everything right every time? Of course not.
Do I think there are significant learnings to take place, about privacy, about confidentiality, about the right to be forgotten, about educating people on good practice and prudent usage, about preventing stalking and cyberbullying and and and? Of course.
Do I think that walled gardens are a bad idea, and that open ecosystems are the way to go? Of course.
There are lots of things wrong with facebook. There are lots of things wrong with lots of things. One of the things I like about facebook is that people listen to views and complaints and then proceed to make changes in response. Not many organisations do that as effectively.
So, while I see a lot of comments aired about Timeline, I’m for it. I think it’s part of the evolutionary process we’re all in. And I look forward to learning more….. I guess this post is going to get some serious flaming, praising facebook is not the way to become popular :-)