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Facebook as the Internet

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In “The Age of Spiritual Machines” Ray Kurzweil writes about the pace of change of technology, noting that not only is technology itself constantly advancing, but the pace of change is rapidly accelerating.  As an example, it took humankind thousands of years to get to the point where we could build flying machines, but roughly sixty-five years after the Wright brothers first took to the skies; mankind put a person on the moon. 

Since then we’ve seen such a rapid advance of technological change (some would say “progress”, others might disagree), that futurists are now talking about a singularity in the not so distant future, a point in which technological change advances beyond the point of human comprehension, meaning the technology will move so far forward so fast, we’ll have lost the ability to manage it.

Looking at the evolution of Facebook over the last year it’s easy to see how this rapidly accelerating pace of change is manifesting itself in the applications and environments we use.  Not more than 15 years ago or so many of us had our first experiences with this thing called the “Internet”.  But Internet evolution was relatively slow (as were 9600 baud dial-up connections), voice over IP really didn’t emerge until around 2000 or so.  Video didn’t become ubiquitous until the rise of YouTube.  Even now, we are still in the early stages of transition from thick-client applications to browser-based “Web 2.0” services based on development frameworks such as AJAX.  While the pace of change has grown, we can still easily understand major milestones when the Internet became more than just a lose collection of web sites and instead became a set of increasingly integrated applications.

Compare the 15 year development of the public Internet with what we’ve seen over a much shorter period of time on Facebook, itself becoming a platform for innovation, collaboration, and change.  Launched in February of 2004 Facebook really didn’t enter the mainstream until September of 2006 when it was opened to the masses.  Early users of Facebook found it to be a useful way to connect with friends and colleagues, plan events, and perhaps play a rudimentary game of movie trivia or blackjack.  In many ways, the functionality of Facebook over its first two years resembled that of the early Internet, so much potential, but little real substance.

Now, take a look at what we’ve seen just in the last few months.  In May Jangl launched a Facebook-based calling service. In August Yugma launched a Facebook and Skype mash-up enabling Facebook users to share their desktop with other users.  In September Iotum launched a VOIP-based audio conferencing tool for Facebook users.  In December Truphone launched “click-to-call” services integrated into Facebook.  In November Alfresco introduced the Alfresco Facebook Platform to enable enterprises to push content out to Facebook users. 

All of these applications have been enabled by a combination of Facebook’s open architecture coupled with the realization that one must quickly move if they want to beat the rush to deliver services on Facebook.  In many ways what we are seeing in Facebook is the development of the Internet on steroids.  Services that took years to deliver to the Internet at-large are coming to Facebook in matter of months if not weeks.  At the current pace, Facebook will become the dominant communications and collaboration platform for the masses, replacing or swallowing up what today is a mish-mash of stand-alone applications.

For those pondering delivering services on Facebook, speed is of the essence.  For those who are users, change is coming faster than we can adapt, perhaps we’ll see the singularity on Facebook before we see it in the larger technology market?